Sea level rise threatening health of Florida Everglades vegetation

Oct. 10, 2013 at 3:44 PM

MIAMI, Oct. 10 (UPI) -- Rising sea levels are threatening freshwater plants in Florida's Everglades, researchers say, which could spell problems for the plants and animals alike.

That's because the freshwater plant communities lining the southern tip of the Florida Peninsula that depend on freshwater flowing south from Lake Okeechobee provide critical habitats to many wildlife species, University of Miami researchers said.

As salt water from rising sea levels intrudes it creates large patches of vegetation loss, their study found.

"Less salt-tolerant plants like the sawgrass, spike rush, and tropical hardwood hammocks are retreating," geography Professor Douglas Fuller said. "At the same time, salt-loving mangroves continue to extend inland."

Fuller and co-author Yu Wang, a former master's program student at UM, used satellite imagery from 2001 to 2010 over the southeastern Everglades to identify changes in vegetation patterns, then followed up with field studies to confirm long-term trends of mangrove expansion and sawgrass habitat loss near the shore.

"I was very surprised at how well the results matched our understanding of long-term trends and field data," Fuller said. "Normally, we don't see such clear patterns."

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