Compositional Effects of Sea-Level Rise in a Patchy Landscape: The Dynamics of Tree Islands in the Southeastern Coastal Everglades
The landscape structure of emergent wetlands in undeveloped portions of the southeastern coastal Everglades is comprised of two distinct components: scattered forest fragments, or tree islands, surrounded by a low matrix of marsh or shrub-dominated vegetation. Changes in the matrix, including the inland transgression of salt-tolerant mangroves and the recession of sawgrass marshes, have been attributed to the combination of sea level rise and reductions in fresh water supply. In this study we examined concurrent changes in the composition of the region’s tree islands over a period of almost three decades. No trend in species composition toward more salt-tolerant trees was observed anywhere, but species characteristic of freshwater swamps increased in forests in which fresh water supply was augmented. Tree islands in the coastal Everglades appear to be buffered from some of the short term effects of salt water intrusion, due to their ability to build soils above the surface of the surrounding wetlands, thus maintaining mesophytic conditions. However, the apparent resistance of tree islands to changes associated with sea level rise is likely to be a temporary stage, as continued salt water intrusion will eventually overwhelm the forests’ capacity to maintain fresh water in the rooting zone.
Ross, M.S., J.P. Sah, J.F. Meeder, P.L. Ruiz, G.J. Telesnicki. 2013. Compositional Effects of Sea-Level Rise in a Patchy Landscape: The Dynamics of Tree Islands in the Southeastern Coastal Everglades. Wetlands DOI: 10.1007/s13157-013-0376-2