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In 2005 we initiated a project designed to better understand tree island structure and function in the Everglades and the wetlands bordering it. Focus was on the raised portions at the upstream end of the islands, where tropical hardwood species adapted to well-drained conditions usually are the most prominent component of the vegetation. The study design is hierarchical, with four levels; in general, a large number of sites is to be surveyed once for a limited set of parameters, and increasingly small sets of islands are to be sampled more intensively, more frequently, and for more aspects of ecosystem function. During the first year of the 3-year study, we completed surveys of 41 Level 1 (i.e., the least intensive level) islands, and established permanent plots in two and three islands of Levels 2 and 4 intensity, respectively. Tree species richness and structural complexity was highest in Shark Slough “hammocks”, while islands in Northeast Shark Slough and Water Conservation Area 3B, which receive heavy human use, were simpler, more park-like communities. Initial monitoring of soil moisture in Level 4 hammocks indicated considerable local variation, presumably associated with antecedent rainfall and current water levels in the adjacent marsh. Tree islands throughout the study area were impacted significantly by Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma in 2005, but appear to be recovering rapidly. As the project continues to include more islands and repeated measurements, we expect to develop a better grasp of tree island dynamics across the Everglades ecosystem, especially with respect to moisture relations and water levels in the adjacent marsh. The detailed progress report which follows is also available online at


A report from the South Florida Terrestrial Ecosystems Lab (SOFTEL).