FCE LTER Journal Articles


Persistence and diversity of directional landscape connectivity improves biomass pulsing in simulations of expanding and contracting wetlands


In flood-pulsed ecosystems, hydrology and landscape structure mediate transfers of energy up the food chain by expanding and contracting in area, enabling spatial expansion and growth of fish populations during rising water levels, and subsequent concentration during the drying phase. Connectivity of flooded areas is dynamic as waters rise and fall, and is largely determined by landscape geomorphology and anisotropy. We developed a methodology for simulating fish dispersal and concentration on spatially-explicit, dynamic floodplain wetlands with pulsed food web dynamics, to evaluate how changes in connectivity through time contribute to the concentration of fish biomass that is essential for higher trophic levels. The model also tracks a connectivity index (DCI) over different compass directions to see if fish biomass dynamics can be related in a simple way to topographic pattern. We demonstrate the model for a seasonally flood-pulsed, oligotrophic system, the Everglades, where flow regimes have been greatly altered. Three dispersing populations of functional fish groups were simulated with empirically-based dispersal rules on two landscapes, and two twelve-year time series of managed water levels for those areas were applied. The topographies of the simulations represented intact and degraded ridge-and-slough landscapes (RSL). Simulation results showed large pulses of biomass concentration forming during the onset of the drying phase, when water levels were falling and fish began to converge into the sloughs. As water levels fell below the ridges, DCI declined over different directions, closing down dispersal lanes, and fish density spiked. Persistence of intermediate levels of connectivity on the intact RSL enabled persistent concentration events throughout the drying phase. The intact landscape also buffered effects of wet season population growth. Water level reversals on both landscapes negatively affected fish densities by depleting fish populations without allowing enough time for them to regenerate. Testable, spatiotemporal predictions of the timing, location, duration, and magnitude of fish concentration pulses were produced by the model, and can be applied to restoration planning.



This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation through the Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research program under Cooperative Agreements #DEB-1237517, #DBI-0620409, and #DEB-9910514. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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