Periphyton communities dominate primary production in much of the Florida Everglades wetland and therefore contribute to soil production, ecosystem metabolism and secondary production as well as the composition of dependent communities. Decades of research in the Everglades have supported research findings from other wetland types that cumulatively show that periphyton communities respond very rapidly to alterations in the two dominant drivers of wetland structure and function—hydrology and water quality. Hydrology controls periphyton productivity and composition by regulating moisture availability, substrate types available for colonization and supply of nutrients. Nutrients, particularly the limiting nutrient in this system, phosphorus (P), control levels of production and community composition. Because periphyton communities are well-established to be related to hydrology and water quality, an indicator was developed based on three periphyton attributes: abundance, quality (i.e., nutrient content) and community composition. This assessment tool offers a qualitative assessment of ecosystem response to potential changes in management activities at a time scale appropriate for active management. An example is provided of how the indicator can be used to assess the current water quality and hydrological conditions from high-density spatial surveys. Detected patterns of deterioration align with expectations derived from model predictions and known sources of nutrients and unnatural hydrologic regimes. If employed adaptively in ecosystem management, this tool can be used to both detect and react to change before the system has been irreparably altered.
Gaiser, E.E.. 2009. Periphyton as an indicator of restoration in the Everglades. Ecological Indicators 9(6): S37-S45