The ecology is what draws people to the Everglades. Read about it here.
Greater Everglades Ecosystem
Nine main habitats categorize the park: Hardwood hammocks are dense regions of shade trees with overlapping leaves. Pinelands or pine rocklands are forested areas that often take root in exposed limestone substrate and depend on fire to clear out the faster-growing hardwoods that block out the light from pine seedlings. To ensure pine seedlings have enough sunlight and space to grow, the park uses prescribed burns to mimic natural fire pattern, keeping the areas healthy. Mangroves are groups of salt-tolerant, partially submerged trees with sturdy root systems. Everglades National Park is home to the largest contiguous stand of protected mangroves in the western hemisphere. Mangroves are valuable to the ecosystem because their strong root-like structures help absorb strong wave energy from incoming storms and act as a carbon sink, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Coastal lowlands (coastal prairies) are located between Florida Bay’s tidal mud flats and drier land, and are well-drained regions with shrubby, salt-tolerant vegetation. Salt-tolerant communities thrive in the varying salinity levels of the lowlands with a large number of succulents and other low-growing, desert-like plants. Freshwater sloughs (pronounced “slews”) are low-lying areas of land that help channel slow-moving marshy rivers through the Everglades and into Florida Bay. Everglades National Park has two distinct sloughs; the larger Shark River Slough, and the smaller, narrower, Taylor Slough. Freshwater Marl Prairies are characterized by diverse low-growing vegetation and look very similar to freshwater sloughs although the sawgrass is not as tall and the water not as deep. Cypress trees are deciduous conifers that can survive in standing water. In the Florida Everglades, it is common to find the trees clustered in the shape of a dome with larger trees in the middle and smaller trees around, growing in linear shapes parallel with water flow, or thinly distributed on drier land in poor soil (dwarf cypresses). Marine and estuarine (places where freshwater meets the sea) habitats contain the largest body of water within Everglades National Park is Florida Bay, an area 800 square miles wide with submerged vegetation. Here, seagrass and algae form the base of the food chain. Within the estuarine environment of the Everglades are commercially and recreationally important fish, crustaceans, and mollusks that impact the health of the national park and beyond.
Everglades National Park is known for its great animal biodiversity, including endemic species, meaning species not found anywhere else. Animal species in the park range include a large number of federally endangered, threatened, and invasive species.
Due to the aquatic environment of the Everglades, the park is the ideal habitat for many amphibious species. The songs of frogs and toads can be heard around the landscape.
Many unique reptiles inhabit the park, including a variety of turtles, snakes, alligators, crocodiles, and lizards.
Everglades National Park is home to more than 360 different bird species. There are three main groups of birds in the park: wading birds (16 species), land birds, and birds of prey. Wading birds have long legs for wading into water to catch food. The most common wading bird found in the Everglades is the white Ibis. It is a long, slender bird that uses its curved beak to search through the mud for food such as crayfish. Many land birds are migratory and travel to the year-round warmth of the wetlands during the winter. Many species, such as woodpeckers and owls, can be found in trees and other dry areas of the park. Birds of prey such as eagles, hawks, and osprey, can also be found in Everglades National Park.
The Everglades has more than 40 mammal species within the park. As a semi-aquatic environment, Everglades are home to many species commonly found in drier forest and field habitats. Here, white-tailed deer can be seen foraging in sawgrass prairie and bobcats have been found in the mangroves. Manatees, also known as sea cows, are large aquatic mammals that live in the slowly moving, often murky waters of some regions of the Everglades. Manatees swim very slowly as they graze on seagrass and cannot quickly move out of the way of boats. While once common in the region, now there are fewer than one hundred Florida panthers living in the wild in south Florida. The main threat to their survival was once bounty hunters leading to near extinction by the mid-1950s, but now the primary threat is habitat reduction. Top predators of the region, panthers are strictly carnivores with their diet mainly consisting of feral hog, white-tailed deer, racoon, and armadillo. Panthers prefer mature upland forests over other habitat types. Upland forests include hardwood hammocks and pinelands which provide dry ground for panthers to rest and have higher prey density than lower habitats that are prone to flooding. Since the Everglades are mainly wetlands, the panthers in the park are smaller and fewer.
With the park’s large quantity of natural resources and human visitors, it is not shocking that invasive species have become part of the ecosystem as well. This has been particularly true for the non-native Burmese python which has been linked with severe mammal declines in the park. The Burmese pythons compete with native wildlife for food and although there are eradication efforts, low detection rates and presence of natural predators gives the pythons an advantage over Everglades’ native species.
Large Argentinian reptiles called tegus, are nesting just six miles from Everglades National Park. The USGS works with the National Park Service to track the movement of these reptiles and uses traps to keep them out of the park because their broad diet, including land snails, small mammals, and bird and reptile eggs, endangers native species within the park.
The Everglades require continual protection and conservation efforts as humans alter the ecologically significant landscape. Conservation efforts are being used to tackle park concerns including water quality and irrigation management as well as control rates of invasive species and helping to improve the overall wildlife habitat. Current restoration projects, such as the National Park System’s Critical Ecosystem Studies Initiative (CESI) have the potential to halt and even reverse some of the most recent environmental degradation of the Everglades to create and maintain the Everglades for generations to come.
The Everglades’ location on a peninsula that extends from North America’s temperate climate to the subtropical Caribbean climate consists of tropical, temperate and endemic species. Everglade National Park’s great floral variety is one of the park’s most significant resources. There are about 750 native seed-bearing plants in the park, with over 160 plant species (nearly a fourth of the park’s native plant species) listed by the State of Florida as threatened, endangered or commercially exploited. Some of the many plant groups in the park include bromeliads (air plants), cacti/succulents, over 100 species of native grasses, lichens, the highest density of wild orchids of any national park in the continental US, marine plants and algae, seagrasses, hundreds of species of native wildflowers.