Wildlife Indicators of Greater Everglades Restoration Progress, Climate Change, and Shifts in Ecosystem Service

Science Center Objects

As Greater Everglades restoration project implementation progresses, wetlands in near coastal areas may undergo changes in salinity, hydroperiod, and water depth.

PROJECT COMPLETED

Satellite image of study areas
Satellite image of study areas

The Science Issue and Relevance: As Greater Everglades restoration project implementation progresses, wetlands in near coastal areas may undergo changes in salinity, hydroperiod, and water depth. Some of these interior marshes near the coasts provide critical foraging grounds for migratory shorebirds, endangered wading birds, and other resident and migratory birds as watchable wildlife (a $3 billion per year industry in Florida). Some of these interior marshes are experiencing increases in salinity and marsh habitat has been overtaken by encroaching mangroves. Freshwater flows should increase as a result of ecosystem restoration and lead to improved habitat for birds and other wildlife. These changes may mitigate saltwater intrusion into the mainland and will likely improve habitat for endangered species such as manatees and crocodiles, as well as bird species of ecotourism importance.

Methodology for Addressing the Issue: This study will be carried out in marshes of Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge (TTINWR) and similar sites at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, which will serve as a control for the effects of restoration. TTINWR, located south of the Picayune Strand Restoration Project, will be receiving overland flow of freshwater as restoration progresses and the canals are plugged. Fakahatchee Strand is located adjacent to the east of TTINWR and freshwater flow is not planned the marshes there, so this area will serve as a control site of similar habitat. This project will monitor bird communities over time in relation to water levels, hydroperiod, salinity, habitat type, and invertebrate prey. We will monitor all water birds including shorebirds, wading birds, and waterfowl, but with a primary focus on shorebirds.

Interior marshes are experiencing increases in salinity and marsh habitat has been overtaken by encroaching mangroves
Interior marshes are experiencing increases in salinity and marsh habitat has been overtaken by encroaching mangroves.

Future Steps: Greater Everglades’s restoration partners will want to learn from restoration of Picayune Strand as the first of its kind. One of the major benefits of Picayune Strand restoration will be to provide overland water flow to TTINWR; however, it is unknown whether the timing and duration of water flow will be for the benefit of wildlife species of interest and concern. Understanding how wildlife will respond to flow patterns post-restoration will be of great value to scientists, land managers, and other decision makers. Lessons learned from this project can help manage for communities of interest such as important migratory or endangered bird communities. In future years, data from this project will be used in predictive modeling. Species distribution models (climate envelope models linked with habitat) will allow us to project into the future to show where these bird communities might occur in the future to assist with land and habitat management and planning. Other modeling efforts will be for Habitat Suitability Indices and linkages to an existing numerical model of water level and salinity.