FCE LTER Journal Articles


Ecosystem structure, nutrient dynamics, and hydrologic relationships in tree islands of the southern Everglades, Florida, USA


Tree islands are an important structural component of many graminoid-dominated wetlands because they increase ecological complexity in the landscape. Tree island area has been drastically reduced with hydrologic modifications within the Everglades ecosystem, yet still little is known about the ecosystem ecology of Everglades tree islands. As part of an ongoing study to investigate the effects of hydrologic restoration on short hydroperiod marshes of the southern Everglades, we report an ecosystem characterization of seasonally flooded tree islands relative to locations described by variation in freshwater flow (i.e. locally enhanced freshwater flow by levee removal). We quantified: (1) forest structure, litterfall production, nutrient utilization, soil dynamics, and hydrologic properties of six tree islands and (2) soil and surface water physico-chemical properties of adjacent marshes. Tree islands efficiently utilized both phosphorus and nitrogen, but indices of nutrient-use efficiency indicated stronger P than N limitation. Tree islands were distinct in structure and biogeochemical properties from the surrounding marsh, maintaining higher organically bound P and N, but lower inorganic N. Annual variation resulting in increased hydroperiod and lower wet season water levels not only increased nitrogen use by tree species and decreased N:P values of the dominant plant species (Chrysobalanus icaco), but also increased soil pH and decreased soil temperature. When compared with other forested wetlands, these Everglades tree islands were among the most nutrient efficient, likely a function of nutrient immobilization in soils and the calcium carbonate bedrock. Tree islands of our study area are defined by: (1) unique biogeochemical properties when compared with adjacent short hydroperiod marshes and other forested wetlands and (2) an intricate relationship with marsh hydrology. As such, they may play an important and disproportionate role in nutrient and carbon cycling in Everglades wetlands. With the loss of tree islands that has occurred with the degradation of the Everglades system, these landscape processes may have been altered. With this baseline dataset, we have established a long-term ecosystem-scale experiment to follow the ecosystem trajectory of seasonally flooded tree islands in response to hydrologic restoration of the southern Everglades.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation through the Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research program under Cooperative Agreements #DBI-0620409 and #DEB-9910514. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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