Resources and Facilities

The Brackenridge Field Lab (BFL) serves as an important site for research across many disciplines. Publications arising from research carried out at BFL should always mention BFL in the methods and acknowledgments. It is recommended that publications use the Site Description citation to reduce the word count in publications and to ensure repeatable, accurate descriptions of the site. View recommended citation.


Brackenridge Field Laboratory (BFL) is a unique urban research station located on 82 acres of land that border the Colorado River. For decades, faculty and students have used this tract of land for research, teaching, and specimen collection. Since the establishment of BFL in 1967, the field station has continued to evolve as a center for biodiversity research in Texas. In addition to these natural spaces, the site offers modern facilities that provide onsite workspaces and resources.

Watch our video series about Brackenridge Field Laboratory

Indoor Facilities

The main 18,279 sq. ft laboratory building provides indoor research facilities as well as classroom and computer lab spaces for graduate and undergraduate courses. Indoor facilities also include an animal rearing room, greenhouse, plant dryer, wet lab, natural temperature laboratory, library, darkroom, workshop, a living cycad collection with attached fumigation room, and two constant temperature rooms. The UT entomology collection and other biodiversity collections are housed at the Lake Austin Center adjacent to BFL.

Outdoor Facilities

BFL’s outdoor facilities and resources include five contemporary greenhouses and one conservatory housing a tropical community of plants and butterflies that simulate the conditions of rainforest canopy gaps. Across the property, there are groups of above-ground concrete fish tanks that house a nationally important research collection of Poecilid fish. The land itself is partitioned into several areas to create 12 one-acre population enclosures equipped with non-climbable walls and electricity. Eight of these enclosures contain ponds while the remaining four have water faucets available for use. In addition, there are eight smaller enclosures, measuring 30ft by 30ft, and a three-acre, deer-fenced experimental garden with water access. The site also offers access to the Colorado River, with a boat house and a gated boat ramp located in the lower terrace area. Outdoor utilities include two water wells, equipment sheds, a duck blind, and a weather station.

ADA Accessibility

BFL's buildings are wheelchair accessible, and most wheelchairs can travel along the paved roads throughout the field station campus. Please call 512-471-2114 for specifics regarding BFL accessibility.


The landscape of the field station can be categorized into over a dozen habitat types. This diversity of habitats supports the wealth of biodiversity at BFL. Through the contributions of undergraduate students across the life of the lab, we have assembled detailed, long-term records of the succession and dynamics of the plant and ant communities in each habitat, all contained in a georeferenced GIS database. A combination of these student records and accounts of the past land-use at BFL has allowed us to make clear distinctions between habitats based on their environmental history, soil type, and current plant community composition.

Upper Terrace

The upper terrace of BFL follows the northwest boundary of the property along Lake Austin Blvd. The proximity of this habitat to the lab buildings and roadways has made it vulnerable to frequent disturbance and invasion by ornamental plants. However, the invaded areas of this habitat have offered opportunities to test out techniques of invasive species management on aggressive exotic shrubs like Chinese privet. Stands of invasive shrubs in this area have been targeted with mechanical removal strategies with goals to restore native plant communities. The upper terrace has also been invaded by imported fire ants and longhorn crazy ants, both of which are successful in heavily disturbed areas. While these species represent a considerable threat to the native community, their presence at BFL has offered a chance to observe their ecology and behavior, and explore ways to reduce their impacts. Learn more about our work on invasive species by clicking here.

The Old Quarry

The old quarry consists of a woodland community that has developed among bare limestone cliffs and the thin rocky soil that is characteristic of the region. In the 1890s, this section of the property was quarried for limestone, leaving large areas stripped of vegetation and soil. In the last century, native and introduced species have colonized this space, and the long process of primary succession has produced a rich woodland and rebuilt the soil. The trees of this habitat are species that can tolerate the thin, dry soil, with Ashe juniper, cedar elm, and live oak being dominant. The leaf litter from juniper trees along with the closed canopy tends to prevent small, herbaceous plants from establishing, leaving this habitat more open at the ground level. Here, several species of Pheidole ant that nest in leaf litter and under bare rocks have been recorded in large numbers despite the presence of aggressive imported fire ants. However, the shrub layer of this habitat has become extremely dense. After deer were extirpated from BFL in 2016 by coyotes, invasive Chinese privet and nandina rapidly expanded into the open understory of the quarry. As in the upper terrace, some stands of exotic shrubs have been mechanically cleared since 2012. The plant and insect communities of these clearings will be assessed over time to determine which removal strategies most effectively reduce nandina and privet dominance.

The Pasture

As its name suggests, the pasture habitat was once cleared for cattle range and farmland. This land was cleared for agricultural purposes as early as 1860 and was maintained as an open area for farming and housing into the 1950s. Originally, the community in the pasture was mostly grasses with a few mesquite and oak trees dotting the landscape. However, once the maintenance of these pastures ended, a wide variety of trees and shrubs began to colonize the available space. Artificial ponds were also added to these retired fields in the 1960s, providing resources for riparian plants. As a result, this habitat has the most diverse and dense tree community of the four main habitats. In this area, species more suited for the open savannah, like post oak and mesquite, coexist with pecan and laurel cherry trees, which are commonly found along river banks. The shrub layer here also contains a relatively robust population of native shrubs, like yaupon and persimmon, compared to the heavily invaded quarry area. Still, invasive privets and vines have established here, occurring in dense thickets in some patches of understory.

The River Terrace

While the river terrace has not experienced the large-scale anthropogenic changes brought on by quarrying or farming, it has served as a floodplain for the Colorado River. In 1900, a dam upstream from the future home of BFL was washed out, and the resulting flood deposited a deep layer of silt along the terrace. Most of the original vegetation was buried or washed away, save the canopies of a few mature pecan trees which persist in the river terrace to this day. The rich soil deposit was colonized by several species of large riparian trees, including American elm and cottonwood, with bald cypress on the water’s edge. Today, the tree community in this habitat is heavily dominated by hackberries, producing the least diverse tree community out of the four habitats. The shrub layer in this habitat is open, with little encroachment from invasive shrubs and only a few species of native shrub-layer plants, such as the rough-leafed dogwood and laurel cherry. Another obvious difference in the vegetation of this habitat is the density of herbaceous ground cover. In the river terrace, a rich dicot community carpets the woodland, a stark contrast to the rocky, open ground layer in the quarry or the patches of grass and forbs found in the pasture. In the recent absence of deer, plants like poison ivy that had been heavily browsed are recolonizing this habitat from the adjacent riverbank community. While the river terrace has been largely spared from the privet invasion, other exotic species occur in this habitat, including Japanese honeysuckle and the imported fire ant.

Species Lists

The BFL species lists are regularly updated since additional species are frequently encountered, and because the taxonomies are often revised. In addition to these raw lists of species, BFL maintains an active georeferenced GIS database of species distributions and abundance, mainly drawn from student records.