Importance of storm events in controlling ecosystem structure and function in a Florida gulf coast estuary
From 8/95 to 2/01, we investigated the ecological effects of intra- and inter-annual variability in freshwater flow through Taylor Creek in southeastern Everglades National Park. Continuous monitoring and intensive sampling studies overlapped with an array of pulsed weather events that impacted physical, chemical, and biological attributes of this region. We quantified the effects of three events representing a range of characteristics (duration, amount of precipitation, storm intensity, wind direction) on the hydraulic connectivity, nutrient and sediment dynamics, and vegetation structure of the SE Everglades estuarine ecotone. These events included a strong winter storm in November 1996, Tropical Storm Harvey in September 1999, and Hurricane Irene in October 1999. Continuous hydrologic and daily water sample data were used to examine the effects of these events on the physical forcing and quality of water in Taylor Creek. A high resolution, flow-through sampling and mapping approach was used to characterize water quality in the adjacent bay. To understand the effects of these events on vegetation communities, we measured mangrove litter production and estimated seagrass cover in the bay at monthly intervals. We also quantified sediment deposition associated with Hurricane Irene's flood surge along the Buttonwood Ridge. These three events resulted in dramatic changes in surface water movement and chemistry in Taylor Creek and adjacent regions of Florida Bay as well as increased mangrove litterfall and flood surge scouring of seagrass beds. Up to 5 cm of bay-derived mud was deposited along the ridge adjacent to the creek in this single pulsed event. These short-term events can account for a substantial proportion of the annual flux of freshwater and materials between the mangrove zone and Florida Bay. Our findings shed light on the capacity of these storm events, especially when in succession, to have far reaching and long lasting effects on coastal ecosystems such as the estuarine ecotone of the SE Everglades.
Davis, S.E., J.E. Cable, D.L. Childers, C. Coronado-Molina, J.W. Day, C.D. Hittle, C.J. Madden, D. Rudnick, E. Reyes, F. Sklar. 2004. Importance of Episodic Storm Events in Controlling Ecosystem Structure and Function in a Gulf Coast Estuary. Journal of Coastal Research 20(4): 1198-1208.