FCE LTER Journal Articles


Chilling damage in a changing climate in coastal landscapes of the subtropical zone: a case study from south Florida


Extensive portions of the southern Everglades are characterized by series of elongated, raised peat ridges and tree islands oriented parallel to the predominant flow direction, separated by intervening sloughs. Tall herbs or woody species are associated with higher elevations and shorter emergent or floating species are associated with lower elevations. The organic soils in this “Ridge-and-Slough” landscape have been stable over millennia in many locations, but degrade over decades under altered hydrologic conditions. We examined soil, pore water, and leaf phosphorus (P) and nitrogen (N) distributions in six Ridge and Slough communities in Shark Slough, Everglades National Park. We found P enrichment to increase and N to decrease monotonically along a gradient from the most persistently flooded sloughs to rarely flooded ridge environments, with the most dramatic change associated with the transition from marsh to forest. Leaf N:P ratios indicated that the marsh communities were strongly P-limited, while data from several forest types suggested either N-limitation or co-limitation by N and P. Ground water stage in forests exhibited a daytime decrease and partial nighttime recovery during periods of surface exposure. The recovery phase suggested re-supply from adjacent flooded marshes or the underlying aquifer, and a strong hydrologic connection between ridge and slough. We therefore developed a simple steady-state model to explore a mechanism by which a phosphorus conveyor belt driven by both evapotranspiration and the regional flow gradient can contribute to the characteristic Ridge and Slough pattern. The model demonstrated that evapotranspiration sinks at higher elevations can draw in low concentration marsh waters, raising local soil and water P concentrations. Focusing of flow and nutrients at the evapotranspiration zone is not strong enough to overcome the regional gradient entirely, allowing the nutrient to spread downstream and creating an elongated concentration plume in the direction of flow. Our analyses suggest that autogenic processes involving the effects of initially small differences in topography, via their interactions with hydrology and nutrient availability, can produce persistent physiographic patterns in the organic sediments of the 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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