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Project Summary Sheet

U.S. Geological Survey, Greater Everglades Science Initiative (Place-Based Studies)

Fiscal Year 2003 Project Summary Report

Project Title: Inventory of Freshwater Fish Species within the Big Cypress National Preserve, with Emphasis on Methods Testing to Design a Long-term Aquatic Biota Sampling Program
Note: First year funded as part of "Influence of Hydrology on Life-History Parameters of Common Freshwater Fishes from Southern Florida."

Project Start Date: 10/01/2003 Project End Date: 09/30/2006

Location (Subregions, Counties, Park or Refuge): Big Cypress, Collier, Monroe, Big Cypress National Preserve

Funding Source: USGS's Greater Everglades Science Program (PBS Initiative), NPS Inventory and Monitoring Program, National Audubon Society (NAS)

Principal Investigator(s): William F. Loftus, Jerome J. Lorenz (NAS)

Project Personnel: Greg Ellis (NAS) Marcus Zokan (NAS)

Supporting Organizations: NAS, Big Cypress National Preserve

Associated / Linked Projects: Influence of Hydrology on Life-History Parameters of Common Freshwater Fishes from Southern Florida; Across Trophic Level System Simulation Program for the Everglade/Big Cypress Region.

Overview & Objective(s): A major ecosystem of the South Florida area, the Big Cypress National Preserve (BICY), is poorly understood biologically. To detect changes in natural and artificial habitats resulting from CERP programs, baseline data on constituent aquatic communities and their ecology are needed before and after the restoration actions. Fishes and aquatic invertebrates can serve as indicators of the health of these wetlands. They are important because of their role in the food web, as prey for many of the predatory species, especially alligators and wading birds. The data collected here will examine the relationships of the animals to the hydrological regimes. This project has several objectives, the foremost of which is to begin a program of aquatic study in BICY. Work is performed in CESU-partnership with National Audubon Society (NAS) and clients from the National Park Service to design and implement a spatially and temporally explicit, quantitative sampling program for aquatic animals in BICY. This program will 1) document the distribution, composition, and habitat use by native and introduced fishes so as to evaluate the effects of CERP on BICY aquatic habitats, 2) gather specimens for life-history studies, and 3) provide ecological data for use in simulation models that will be used to plan and evaluate restoration actions. Presently, inappropriate data from the Everglades are used in the Swamp cells in the ATLSS fish model.

Status: During the first season of sampling in Big Cypress, we have focused on a comprehensive census of the freshwater fish species present in the Preserve. To date, 54 species have been identified as resident within the preserve. Sampling has been geographically robust and has been conducted across the full range of aquatic habitat, including cypress forests, herbaceous prairies, hardwood swamps, marshes, ponds, and canals. Many sampling methods have been utilized. Trapping and electroshock fishing have been widely employed, as well as angling, cast netting, and visual surveys. The efficacy of each technique has been evaluated for incorporation into the long-term, quantitative monitoring program.

Recent & Planned Products: We have produced quarterly progress reports, and are now preparing two products based on the information gathered during FY03 fieldwork. The first of these will be a summary of the field-sampling results, and will include a comprehensive species list, a breakdown of species by habitat, measures of relative abundance for native and exotic species, and maps of the species' spatial distribution. The second will be a sampling plan for quantitative monitoring of aquatic animals in Big Cypress. It will incorporate knowledge gained about the use of sampling techniques in Preserve habitats and will detect changes in populations resulting from hydrologic alterations caused by CERP.

Relevance to Greater Everglades Restoration Information Needs: We are quantifying the ecological responses of the aquatic-animal community to CERP-induced changes to hydrology within BICY (thereby linking this project to the agency mission of assisting in the management of DOI property). The project will provide baseline data that may be used to track changes in ecology related to hydrological changes resulting from CERP projects. The baseline data may also provide ecological inputs for use in simulation models (e.g. ATLSS) that will be used to evaluate restoration alternatives. The data will also provide valuable information on the role of aquatic refugia for aquatic fauna and the role of non-indigenous fish species on the native community. CERP projects that will influence BICY hydrology include Decompartmentalization of WCA3 and the SW Florida Feasibility Study.

Key Findings:

  • Established a baseline for fish-community composition for aquatic habitats in BICY.
  • Identified habitats likely to be affected by changes to the hydrologic regime produced by CERP.
  • Evaluated efficacy of sampling techniques for detecting changes in aquatic-animal populations in BICY habitats.

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