FCE LTER Journal Articles


Response of diatom assemblages to 130 years of environmental change in Florida Bay (USA)


Coastal ecosystems around the world are constantly changing in response to interacting shifts in climate and land and water use by expanding human populations. The development of agricultural and urban areas in South Florida significantly modified its hydrologic regime and influenced rates of environmental change in wetlands and adjacent estuaries. This study describes changes in diatom species composition through time from four sediment cores collected across Florida Bay, for the purposes of detecting periods of major shifts in assemblage structure and identifying major drivers of those changes. We examined the magnitude of diatom assemblage change in consecutive 2-cm samples of the 210Pb-dated cores, producing a record of the past ~130 years. Average assemblage dissimilarity among successive core samples was ~30%, while larger inter-sample and persistent differences suggest perturbations or directional shifts. The earliest significant compositional changes occurred in the late 1800s at Russell Bank, Bob Allen Bank and Ninemile Bank in the central and southwestern Bay, and in the early 1900s at Trout Cove in the northeast. These changes coincided with the initial westward redirection of water from Lake Okeechobee between 1881 and 1894, construction of several canals between 1910 and 1915, and building the Florida Overseas Railroad between 1906 and 1916. Later significant assemblage restructurings occurred in the northeastern and central Bay in the late 1950s, early 1960s and early 1970s, and in the southwestern Bay in the 1980s. These changes coincide with climate cycles driving increased hurricane frequency in the 1960s, followed by a prolonged dry period in the 1970s to late 1980s that exacerbated the effects of drainage operations in the Everglades interior. Changes in the diatom assemblage structure at Trout Cove and Ninemile Bank in the 1980s correspond to documented eutrophication and a large seagrass die-off. A gradual decrease in the abundance of freshwater to brackish water taxa in the cores over ~130 years implies that freshwater deliveries to Florida Bay were much greater prior to major developments on the mainland. Salinity, which was quantitatively reconstructed at these sites, had the greatest effect on diatom communities in Florida Bay, but other factors—often short-lived, natural and anthropogenic in nature—also played important roles in that process. Studying the changes in subfossil diatom communities over time revealed important environmental information that would have been undetected if reconstructing only one water quality variable.


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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