Freshwater Plants In The Everglades At Risk From Rising Sea Levels

Lee Rannals for – Your Universe Online

Researchers at the University of Miami have confirmed that rising sea levels are threatening the Florida Everglades’ freshwater plants.

Life inside the Everglades depends on the fresh water that flows south from Lake Okeechobee. Both plants and animals alike could face devastation if salt water began to intrude on this community.

The team used satellite imagery from 2001 to 2010 over the southeastern Everglades in an area called Taylor Slough. The satellite imagery confirmed long-term trends of mangrove expansion and aggressive habitat loss near the shore. This trend is related to salt water intrusion caused by sea-level rise and water management practices, according to the new study.

“I was very surprised at how well the results matched our understanding of long-term trends and field data. Normally, we don’t see such clear patterns,” said Douglas Fuller, principal investigator of the study published in the journal Wetlands.

The team found large patches of vegetation loss closer to the coast, about 2.5 miles from the shoreline, in and around a vegetative band of low productivity that has been shifting inland over the past 70 years.

“Less salt-tolerant plants like the sawgrass, spike rush, and tropical hardwood hammocks are retreating. At the same time, salt-loving mangroves continue to extend inland,” according to Fuller, professor of Geography and Regional studies in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Miami.

The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan may help to offset some of the changes being caused by future salt water intrusion, but Fuller says that this restoration may not suffice if seal-level rise continues to accelerate.

Taylor Slough is the second largest flow-way for surface water in the Everglades and stretches about 18 miles along the eastern boundary of Everglades National Park. Fuller said the methods used in the study helped the scientists to assess the trends, unlike past research that was limited to plot-level studies.

“These field studies, which provide confirmation of the satellite-based results, involved clipping and weighing plants found in sawgrass prairies and are part of a long-term effort to understand the dynamics of the ecosystems in the Everglades,” Fuller said.

The team would like to apply the methods used in their study to other coastal wetland areas that are similarly being threatened by sea-level rise.