Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Biology

First Advisor's Name

Evelyn Gaiser

First Advisor's Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Jennifer Richards

Third Advisor's Name

Joel Trexler

Fourth Advisor's Name

James Fourqurean

Fifth Advisor's Name

Leonard Scinto

Keywords

Karstic wetlands, Everglades, Caribbean, periphyton, phosphorus, hydrology, diatoms

Date of Defense

6-4-2010

Abstract

The distinctive karstic, freshwater wetlands of the northern Caribbean and Central American region support the prolific growth of calcite-rich periphyton mats. Aside from the Everglades, very little research has been conducted in these karstic wetlands, which are increasingly threatened by eutrophication. This study sought to (i) test the hypothesis that water depth and periphyton total phosphorus (TP) content are both drivers of periphyton biomass in karstic wetland habitats in Belize, Mexico and Jamaica, (ii) provide a taxonomic inventory of the periphytic diatom species in these wetlands and (iii) examine the relationship between periphyton mat TP concentration and diatom assemblage at Everglades and Caribbean locations.

Periphyton biomass, nutrient and diatom assemblage data were generated from periphyton mat samples collected from shallow, marl-based wetlands in Belize, Mexico and Jamaica. These data were compared to a larger dataset collected from comparable sites within Everglades National Park. A diatom taxonomic inventory was conducted on the Caribbean samples and a combination of ordination and weighted-averaging modeling techniques were used to compare relationships between periphyton TP concentration, periphyton biomass and diatom assemblage composition among the locations.

Within the Everglades, periphyton biomass showed a negative correlation with water depth and mat TP, while periphyton mat percent organic content was positively correlated with these two variables. These patterns were also exhibited within the Belize, Mexico and Jamaica locations, suggesting that water depth and periphyton TP content are both drivers of periphyton biomass in karstic wetland systems within the northern Caribbean region.

A total of 146 diatom species representing 39 genera were recorded from the three Caribbean locations, including a distinct core group of species that may be endemic to this habitat type. Weighted averaging models were produced that effectively predicted mat TP concentration from diatom assemblages for both Everglades (R2=0.56) and Caribbean (R2=0.85) locations. There were, however, significant differences among Everglades and Caribbean locations with respect to species TP optima and indicator species. This suggests that although diatoms are effective indicators of water quality in these wetlands, differences in species response to water quality changes can reduce the predictive power of these indices when applied across systems.

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