FCE LTER Journal Articles


Functional and Compositional Responses of Periphyton Mats to Simulated Saltwater Intrusion in the Southern Everglades


Periphyton plays key ecological roles in karstic, freshwater wetlands and is extremely sensitive to environmental change making it a powerful tool to detect saltwater intrusion into these vulnerable and valuable ecosystems. We conducted field mesocosm experiments in the Florida Everglades, USA to test the effects of saltwater intrusion on periphyton metabolism, nutrient content, and diatom species composition, and how these responses differ between mats from a freshwater versus a brackish marsh. Pulsed saltwater intrusion was simulated by dosing treatment chambers monthly with a brine solution for 15 months; control chambers were simultaneously dosed with site water. Periphyton from the freshwater marsh responded to a 1-ppt increase in surface water salinity with reduced productivity and decreased concentrations of total carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus. These functional responses were accompanied by significant shifts in periphytic diatom assemblages. Periphyton mats at the brackish marsh were more functionally resilient to the saltwater treatment (~ 2 ppt above ambient), but nonetheless experienced significant shifts in diatom composition. These findings suggest that freshwater periphyton is negatively affected by small, short-term increases in salinity and that periphytic diatom assemblages, particularly at the brackish marsh, are a better metric of salinity increases compared with periphyton functional metrics due to functional redundancy. This research provides new and valuable information regarding periphyton dynamics in response to changing water sources in the southern Everglades that will allow us to extend the use of periphyton, and their diatom assemblages, as tools for environmental assessments related to saltwater intrusion.


Originally published in Estuaries and Coasts.



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