Florida Coastal Everglades LTER

Sampling in the mangrove forest at FCE (Shark River A3)

Key Research Findings:

FCE scientists discovered that, unlike in most coastal areas, the natural source of phosphorus (the nutrient that limits ecosystem productivity) for coastal Caribbean estuaries is seawater, not inland environments. This important finding has ramifications for both restoration and conservation and is informing decision making in coastal areas.
FCE researchers have found significant spatial differences in mangrove productivity; from riverine mangrove forests with productivity rates similar to tropical rain forests to low structure scrub mangroves that grow in nutrient-poor environments. Mangrove forests growth and survival are greatly influenced by the impacts and legacies of hurricanes, sea-level rise, and human impacts along coastal areas.
FCE scientists revealed how human-induced nutrient enrichment in the Everglades and Caribbean wetlands affect the "productivity paradox" in which an extraordinarily high level of algal growth supports far fewer aquatic animal consumers than expected. Understanding this dynamic is critical to the restoration of the Everglades ecosystem.

Overview: The majority of Florida Coastal Everglades LTER sites are located in freshwater marsh, estuarine mangroves, seagrass estuary ecosystems in Everglades National Park. Everglades National Park covers approximately 4300 km² of south Florida and is part of the greater Everglades ecosystem which extends north to Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River. Research Our research focuses on understanding ecosystem processes along the two major drainage basins in Everglades National Park: Shark River Slough and Taylor Slough. We are particularly interested in the dynamics at the estuarine ecotone, where freshwater and estuarine wetlands meet. This ecotone is dynamic in the landscape in response to changing freshwater inflow (with Everglades restoration), sea level rise (climate change responses), and disturbance (particularly hurricanes and fire).

History: The FCE LTER is a relatively young program, established in 2000 when NSF expanded the LTER network to include 3 new coastal sites. FCE research questions focus on how changing freshwater inflow, sealevel rise and climate change, and disturbance interact to control ecological pattern and process in oligotrophic ecosystems. These questions tend to focus on the oligohaline ecotone region of the coastal Everglades. The entire FCE LTER site is enclosed in Everglades National Park, which at over 4300 km2 is the third largest wilderness in the lower 48 states. We cover much of this large, diverse, low-nutrient landscape with 17 permanent sites located along two transects oriented with the natural flow of water. The FCE LTER scientific group is as diverse as the landscape, and includes senior scientists, staff, and students from nearly 10 universities, from all key state and federal agencies, and from several NGOs.
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Research Topics: How regional controls (climate change, changing freshwater inflow) control population and ecosystem level dynamics in wetland-dominated coastal landscapes, with an emphasis on the oligohaline zone and taking advantage of the oligotrophic status of the entire coastal Everglades system.
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