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Fire, which affects community structure and composition at all trophic levels, is an integral component of the Everglades ecosystem (Wade et al. 1980; Lockwood et al. 2003). Without fire, the Everglades as we know it today would be a much different place. This is particularly true for the short-hydroperiod marl prairies that predominate on the eastern and western flanks of Shark River Slough, Everglades National Park (Figure 1). In general, fire in a tropical or sub-tropical grassland community favors the dominance of C4 grasses over C3 species (Roscoe et al. 2000; Briggs et al. 2005). Within this pyrogenic graminoid community also, periodic natural fires, together with suitable hydrologic regime, maintain and advance the dominance of C4 vs C3 graminoids (Sah et al. 2008), and suppress the encroachment of woody stems (Hanan et al. 2009; Hanan et al. unpublished manuscript) originating from the tree islands that, in places, dominate the landscape within this community. However, fires, under drought conditions and elevated fuel loads, can spread quickly throughout the landscape, oxidizing organic soils, both in the prairie and in the tree islands, and, in the process, lead to shifts in vegetation composition. This is particularly true when a fire immediately precedes a flood event (Herndon et al. 1991; Lodge 2005; Sah et al. 2010), or if so much soil is consumed during the fire that the hydrologic regime is permanently altered as a result of a decrease in elevation (Zaffke 1983).


A report from the South Florida Terrestrial Ecosystems Lab (SOFTEL).



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