Using soil profiles of seeds and molecular markers as proxies for sawgrass and wet prairie slough vegetation in Shark Slough, Everglades National Park
We measured the abundance of Cladium jamaicense (Crantz) seeds and three biomarkers in freshwater marsh soils in Shark River Slough (SRS), Everglades National Park (ENP) to determine the degree to which these paleoecological proxies reflect spatial and temporal variation in vegetation. We found that C. jamaicense seeds and the biomarkers Paq, total lignin phenols (TLP) and kaurenes analyzed from surface soils were all significantly correlated with extant aboveground C. jamaicense biomass quantified along a vegetation gradient from a C. jamaicense to a wet prairie/slough (WPS) community. Our results also suggest that these individual proxies may reflect vegetation over different spatial scales: Paq and kaurenes correlated most strongly (R 2 = 0.88 and 0.99, respectively) with vegetation within 1 m of a soil sample, while seeds and TLP reflected vegetation 0–20 m upstream of soil samples. These differences in the spatial scale depicted by the different proxies may be complementary in understanding aspects of historic landscape patterning. Soil profiles of short (25 cm) cores showed that downcore variation in C. jamaicense seeds was highly correlated with two of the three biomarkers (Paq, R 2 = 0.84, p<0.005; TLP, R 2 = 0.97, p<0.0001), and all four of the proxies indicated a recent increase in C. jamaicense biomass at the site. Using a preliminary depth-to-age relationship based on matching charcoal peaks with available ENP fire records (1980-present) specific to our coring site, we found that peak-depths in C. jamaicense seed concentration appeared to correspond to recent minimum water levels (e.g., 1989 and 2001), and low seed abundance corresponded to high water levels (e.g., 1995), consistent with the known autecology of C. jamaicense. In summary, the combination of C. jamaicense seeds and biomarkers may be useful for paleoecological reconstruction of vegetation change and ultimately in guaging the success of ongoing efforts to restore historic hydrologic conditions in the South Florida Everglades.
Saunders, C.J., M. Gao, J. Lynch, R. Jaffe, D.L. Childers. 2006. Using soil profiles of seeds and molecular markers as proxies for sawgrass and wet prairie slough vegetation in Shark Slough, Everglades National Park. Hydrobiologia 569(1): 475-492.