Ecosystem responses to hydrologic change and mechanisms of nitrogen sequestration in seasonally flooded tree islands of the southern Everglades

Document Type



Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor's Name

Daniel L. Childers

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Suzanne Koptur

Third Advisor's Name

Steven F. Oberbauer

Date of Defense



In the Florida Everglades, tree islands are conspicuous heterogeneous elements in a complex wetland landscape. I investigated the effects of increased freshwater flow in southern Everglades seasonally flooded tree islands, and characterized biogeochemical interactions among tree islands and the marsh landscape matrix, specifically examining hydrologic flows of nitrogen (N), and landscape N sequestration capacity. I utilized ecological trajectories of key ecosystem variables to differentiate effects of increased sheetflow and hydroperiod. I utilized stable isotope analyses and nutrient content of tree island ecosystem components to test the hypothesis that key processes in tree island nitrogen cycling would favor ecosystem N sequestration. I combined estimates of tree island ecosystem N standing stocks and fluxes, soil and litter N transformation rates, and hydrologic inputs of N to quantify the net sequestration of N by a seasonally flooded tree island.

Results show that increased freshwater flow to seasonally flooded tree islands promoted ecosystem oligotrophy, whereas reduced flows allowed some plant species to cycle P less efficiently. As oligotrophy is a defining parameter of Everglades wetlands, and likely promotes belowground production and peat development, reintroducing freshwater flow from an upstream canal had a favorable effect on ecosystem dynamics of tree islands in the study area. Important factors influencing the stable isotopic composition of nitrogen and carbon were: 1) a contribution to soil N by soil invertebrates, animal excrement, and microbes, 2) a possible NO3 source from an upstream canal and an “open” ecosystem N cycle, and 3) greater availability of phosphorus in tree islands relative to the marsh landscape, suggesting that tree island N cycling favors N sequestration. Hydrologic sources of N were dominated by surface water loads of NO3’ and NH4+, and an important soil N transformation promoting the net loss of surface water DIN was nitrate immobilization associated with soils and surficial leaf litter. The net inorganic N sequestration capacity of a seasonally flooded tree island was 50 g yr'1 m'2. Thus, tree islands likely have an important function in landscape sequestration of inorganic N, and may reduce significant anthropogenic N loads to downstream coastal systems.



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