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Planning for effective restoration in the Everglades

This article is part of the Fall 2014 issue of the Earth Science Matters Newsletter. 


For the last century, water flowing through the Florida Everglades has been managed to address the dual goals of facilitating urban and agricultural development and protecting coastal communities from flooding and drought. 

Resource managers control water levels in the Everglades based on water regulation schedules, which define water depths in different parts of the system throughout the year. These schedules are intended to provide flood control, manage water supply, and maintain a healthy ecosystem. 

scientists collect a sediment core
In this photograph, USGS scientists collect a sediment core from Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, Florida. Proxy records from wetland sediments provide an archive of past climate and land use change.

These schedules were developed when water conditions became either too wet or too dry. In some cases, they resulted in degradation of the wetland ecosystem. In an effort to optimize their water regulation schedules, managers at the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in the northeastern Everglades decided to include information on predrainage hydrology in their decision-making process. Because historical records were limited, they approached USGS scientists to use paleoecological methods to reconstruct Refuge hydrology over the past few centuries. 

In a joint USGS and USFWS research effort, scientists analyzed fossil pollen from ten sediment cores collected in the Refuge to reconstruct the vegetation and hydrologic conditions of the last 300 years. Their results showed that plant communities and hydrology have been altered significantly since implementation of water regulation schedules. 

Their results also highlighted the considerable spatial impact of water management practices that began in the mid-20th century. Sites in the northern part of the refuge are now much drier, whereas those in the southern part are much wetter. These changes have affected the distribution of plant communities and associated wildlife. 

This information helps managers design new water regulation schedules that meet the needs of the urban and agricultural communities, while providing a healthy habitat for wetland wildlife and plant communities.

The paper, published in Wetlands in 2013, can be found at:

<< Back to Fall 2014 Newsletter

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