We determined the rate of migration of coastal vegetation zones in response to salt-water encroachment through paleoecological analysis of mollusks in 36 sediment cores taken along transects perpendicular to the coast in a 5.5 km2 band of coastal wetlands in southeast Florida. Five vegetation zones, separated by distinct ecotones, included freshwater swamp forest, freshwater marsh, and dwarf, transitional and fringing mangrove forest. Vegetation composition, soil depth and organic matter content, porewater salinity and the contemporary mollusk community were determined at 226 sites to establish the salinity preferences of the mollusk fauna. Calibration models allowed accurate inference of salinity and vegetation type from fossil mollusk assemblages in chronologically calibrated sediments. Most sediments were shallow (20–130 cm) permitting coarse-scale temporal inferences for three zones: an upper peat layer (zone 1) representing the last 30–70 years, a mixed peat-marl layer (zone 2) representing the previous ca. 150–250 years and a basal section (zone 3) of ranging from 310 to 2990 YBP. Modern peat accretion rates averaged 3.1 mm yr)1 while subsurface marl accreted more slowly at 0.8 mm yr)1. Salinity and vegetation type for zone 1 show a steep gradient with freshwater communities being confined west of a north–south drainage canal constructed in 1960. Inferences for zone 2 (pre-drainage) suggest that freshwater marshes and associated forest units covered 90% of the area, with mangrove forests only present along the peripheral coastline. During the entire pre-drainage history, salinity in the entire area was maintained below a mean of 2 ppt and only small pockets of mangroves were present; currently, salinity averages 13.2 ppt and mangroves occupy 95% of the wetland. Over 3 km2 of freshwater wetland vegetation type have been lost from this basin due to salt-water encroachment, estimated from the mollusk-inferred migration rate of freshwater vegetation of 3.1 m yr)1 for the last 70 years (compared to 0.14 m yr)1 for the pre-drainage period). This rapid rate of encroachment is driven by sea-level rise and freshwater diversion. Plans for rehydrating these basins with freshwater will require high-magnitude re-diversion to counteract locally high rates of sea-level rise.
Gaiser, E.E., A. Zafiris, P.L. Ruiz, F. Tobias, M.S. Ross. 2006. Tracking rates of ecotone migration due to salt-water encroachment using fossil mollusks in coastal South Florida. Hydrobiologia 569(1): 237-257.