Researchers offer clues into Everglades restoration future

Restoring the Florida Everglades will improve the availability of clean freshwater and the quality of habitat for wildlife while offsetting impacts of sea level rise, according to FIU researchers.

Researchers have compared the effectiveness of five different restoration scenarios, ranging from no restoration at all to full restoration implementation. They specifically looked at the effects of restoration on water flow, water quality, tree islands and wildlife.

In any restoration scenario, researchers expect the number of birds and fish to increase because of more connectivity to freshwater flow. Crayfish may decline, however, because of longer periods of flooding brought on by more freshwater. All restoration options can also improve water conditions for the growth of tree islands, which serve as important habitats for wildlife and accumulate phosphorous and nitrogen needed for a healthy ecosystem.

The FIU researchers – along with others from universities, the Everglades Foundation and Everglades National Park – used historic data from the Florida Coastal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research (FCE LTER) Program. Based at FIU and funded by the National Science Foundation, the FCE LTER Program leads some of the longest and largest studies of the Everglades. Their efforts have resulted in nine studies published in a special issue of Restoration Ecology, the academic journal of the Society for Ecological Restoration.

“This special issue unites nearly two decades of intensive, long-term data with powerful, ecological models to refine long-term restoration goals and targets,” said Evelyn Gaiser, lead principal investigator of the FCE LTER Program and executive director of FIU’s School of Environment, Arts and Society. “It serves as an important model for how long-term research can inform restoration design through modeling, and it’s a significant product of long-term collaborations among scientists.”

Nearly half of the Florida Everglades has been developed as agricultural and urban land. The drainage of the wetlands has significantly impacted the landscape, as well as the quality of life of the plants and wildlife that call it home.

In 2000, Congress approved the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan to restore the ecosystem, but its implementation has faced complications. Ten years later, the U.S. Department of the Interior funded the Synthesis of Everglades Restoration and Ecosystem Services Project to synthesize the growing body of Everglades research and address issues that have hampered restoration. Managed by the Everglades Foundation, the project is intended to communicate restoration science to natural resource managers and decision-makers.

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