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Vegetation: Environment Relationships and Water Management in Shark Slough, Everglades National Park

Wetlands Ecology and Management, 2003, 11(5): 291-303
Ross, M. S., Reed, D. L, Sah, J. P., Ruiz, P. L., Lewin, M. T.

Abstract: The hydrologic regime of Shark Slough, the most extensive long hydroperiod marsh in Everglades National Park, is largely controlled by the location, volume, and timing of water delivered to it through several control structures from Water Conservation Areas north of the Park. Where natural or anthropogenic barriers to water flow are present, water management practices in this highly regulated system may result in an uneven distribution of water in the marsh, which may impact regional vegetation patterns. In this paper, we use data from 569 sampling locations along five cross-Slough transects to examine regional vegetation distribution, and to test and describe the association of marsh vegetation with several hydrologic and edaphic parameters. Analysis of vegetation: environment relationships yielded estimates of both mean and variance in soil depth, as well as annual hydroperiod, mean water depth, and 30-day maximum water depth within each cover type during the 1990's. We found that rank abundances of the three major marsh cover types (Tall Sawgrass, Sparse Sawgrass, and Spikerush Marsh) were identical in all portions of Shark Slough, but regional trends in the relative abundance of individual communities were present. Analysis also indicated clear and consistent differences in the hydrologic regime of three marsh cover types, with hydroperiod and water depths increasing in the order Tall Sawgrass<Sparse Sawgrass<Spikerush Marsh. In contrast, soil depth decreased in the same order. Locally, these differences were quite subtle; within a management unit of Shark Slough, mean annual values for the two water depth parameters varied less than 15 cm among types, and hydroperiods varied by 65 days or less. More significantly, regional variation in hydrology equaled or exceeded the variation attributable to cover type within a small area. For instance, estimated hydroperiods for Tall Sawgrass in Northern Shark Slough were longer than for Spikerush Marsh in any of the other regions. Although some of this regional variation may reflect a natural gradient within the Slough, a large proportion is the result of compartmentalization due to current water management practices within the marsh. We conclude that hydroperiod or water depth are the most important influences on vegetation within management units, and attribute larger scale differences in vegetation pattern to the interactions among soil development, hydrology and fire regime in this pivotal portion of Everglades.