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Ecosystem History: Florida Bay and the Southwest Coast

Project Proposal for 1999

Continuing Project Workplan - FY 1999

Project Title: Ecosystem History: Florida Bay and the Southwest Coast
Geographic Area: Florida Bay and southwest coast, Dade County and Monroe County, Florida
Project Start Date: October 1, 1994
Project End Date: September 30, 2000

Project Chief: G. Lynn Brewster-Wingard
Region/Division/Team/Section: ER/GD/ERNGMT
E-mail: lwingard@usgs.gov
Phone: 703-648-5352
Fax: 703-648-6953
Mail Address: Mail Stop 926A, USGS, Reston, VA 20192
Program: Integrated Natural Resource Science
Program Element(s)/Task(s): Element 6, Task 6.1, 6.3

Project Summary: Recent negative trends in the Florida Bay ecosystem have been attributed to human activities, however, neither the natural patterns of change, nor the pre-human baseline for the environment have been determined. The major objectives of this project are 1) to determine patterns of faunal and floral change over the last 150-200 years, and 2) to explore associations between fluctuating biotic patterns and anthropogenically-induced changes and/or natural changes in the physical environment. Specific issues of changes in salinity and seagrass distribution over time will be addressed. Environmental managers and policy makers responsible for restoring the Everglades ecosystem to a "natural state" can use these data to make economical and realistic decisions about restoration goals and to determine interim steps to ameliorate further damage to the ecosystem.

Project Objectives and Strategy: The project objectives are to determine changes in the biological, physical, and chemical parameters of the ecosystem over the last 150-200 years and to determine if these changes can be correlated to human intervention, to natural events, or to a combination off actors, thus establishing cause and effect relationships. Faunal and floral remains are examined from shallow cores collected throughout the ecosystem. The biota in the cores are compared to Iiving taxa with known environmental preferences to determine the down-core history of salinity and substrate based on the fauna present. The flora provide 1inks to the terrestrial and planktonic systems. By providing a detailed picture of changes in biodiversity, salinity, substrate, and nutrient supply prior to human intervention in the south Florida ecosystem, we can establish the natural range of variation that exists within the system and we can determine what the baseline goals of the restoration should be. Analysis of the data post-human intervention, and comparison of these data with the pre-human history data, allows us to determine the degree to which human activity has influenced the recent negative trends seen in Florida Bay. Natural variation can be filtered out, thus our project can prevent restoration managers from attempting to "fix" what may, in part, be a natural phenomenon.

Potential Impacts and Major Products: Potential Impacts and Major Products: Project will provide the groups responsible for making restoration decisions with answers to the following questions: 1) What was the ecosystem like prior to human intervention? 2) What is the natural range of variation within the ecosystem? 3) Can recent changes within the ecosystem be correlated to human factors, to natural events, or to a combination of factors? The answers to these questions will allow the land managers and agencies responsible for the restoration to determine what is the baseline goal for the restoration; whether this goal is attainable; what human factors have had the greatest impact on the ecosystem; and to monitor the progress of the restoration effort as corrective alterations begin. The project benefits the nation by providing sustainable restoration goals, thereby potentially saving large amounts of money, and by contributing to the restoration of a unique and valuable national treasure. Major products include journal articles, contributions to the synthesis volumes, and an online database containing all USGS ecosystem history data.

Collaborators, Clients:

  • South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) - Contact: David Rudnick: SFWMD is responsible for controlling the flow of fresh water through the canals, locks and water conservation areas from the Kissimmee River south to Florida Bay. Our data demonstrate how salinity has changed in response to human alteration of the environment and to what extent these changes in salinity have affected the biota of Florida Bay. SFWMD is using this data to determine to what degree their actions have affected the bay in the past, and to make informed decisions about freshwater output for the immediate future. We coordinate site location for coring with SFWMD to determine areas of particular research interest and collaborate with their marine ecologists. Project received OFA from SFWMD in FY 97.
  • National Park Service (NPS) - Contact: Tom Armentano: The NPS implementation pIan states, the NPS "is responsible for protecting. preserving. and managing unique environments located within Park lands. The NPS cannot effectively manage the unique resources of Florida Bay unless it clearly understands the current physical, chemical, and biological processes of the Bay" (NPS, Everglades National Park, South Florida Natural Resources Center, Florida Bay Implementation PIan, August, 1994). Our data will provide insight into these processes and will allow NPS to make decisions about future use of resources in the Park. We will provide the park scientists with the data to establish the baseline goals of the restoration. Fieldwork is coordinated through the Everglades National Park (ENP). ENP facilities on Key Largo are used in support of fieldwork.
  • Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE): ACOE will have their pIan in place by 2000 for the reconfiguration/restoration of the south Florida drainage system. This process involves prioritization of the most profoundly affected parts of the ecosystem, and requires an understanding of the effects of altered freshwater flow on Florida Bay. Our data will provide this information.
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has responsibility under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act for the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary, which includes the 10% of Florida Bay that is not encompassed within Everglades National Park. They are particularly concerned with water quality issues, and how factors outside the Sanctuary affect the living resources within the Sanctuary. Our research will provide data about the living resources in the northern portion of Florida Bay that could be used as guidelines to establishing monitoring programs, and that could be used in modeling of ecosystem processes within the Bay. NOAA has provided logistical support by making their facility at Key Largo available for our use. John Robbins, NOAA, collaborates with Chuck Holmes, USGS, on portions of the isotopic analyses necessary for our research.
  • Florida Geological Survey (FGS), Department of Environmental Protection: FGS provides field support and access to cores driIIed along the eastern margin of Florida Bay; and use of their platform coring device may be arranged if USGS devices are otherwise deployed. Thomas Scott, is conducting the sediment analysis for the modern monitoring portion of our study.
  • Florida Marine Research Institute (FMRI) Department of Environmental Protection: FMRI is responsible for compiling a meta-database on all ongoing research projects in south Florida. Our project has cooperated fully with Jill Trubey and Mike Dick, FMRI, in compiling this database. Cooperative data exchange on benthic organisms in Florida Bay has occurred between our project and William Lyons, FMRI.
  • Keys Marine Lab, Florida Institute of Oceanography (KML): KML provides logistical field support (at a cost to the project).
  • Internal USGS Collaboration:- This project will be closely coordinated with Robert Halley's (GD) and Ellen Prager's (GD) Sedimentation. Sea-Level Rise and Circulation in Florida Bay Projects, and Gene Shinn's (GD) 2 groundwater projects in the Florida Keys; field work will be coordinated and joint decisions on core sites will be made. Pb-210 dates will be obtained from Chuck Holmes (WRD). Florida Bay biotic data will be correlated to Debra WilIard's (GD) onshore bootie data Terrestrial and Freshwater Ecosystems Project, to Scott Ishman's (GD) Biscayne Bay Ecosystem History Project, and Chuck Holmes' (WRD) Buttonwood Embankment Project. We are exchanging information on seagrass distribution with Mike Robblee (BRD).


Timeline FY 99:

  • Complete analysis of Whipray Core (Brewster-Wingard responsible)
  • Complete analysis of Park Key Core (responsibility 10 be assigned)
  • Statistical analysis of modern and core data collected to date (Brewster-Wingard responsible)
  • South Florida Ecosystem History database on line (Jeffery Stone responsible)
  • Collection of 2-3 cores to address seagrass history issue (Brewster-Wingard in cooperation with E. Shinn and R. Halley)
  • Determine if seagrass history should be pursued as separate project in cooperation with M. Robblee (BRD)
  • Field work to collect samples from modern monitoring sites, February 99
  • Synthesis article on all cores and samples examined to date (Brewster-Wingard responsible), available for review by Spring 99
  • Field work to collect samples from modern monitoring sites, July 99
  • Determine if modern monitoring should be continued for use as a tool in restoration efforts
  • Abstracts for scientific meetings

Time line FY 2000:

  • Compilation of modern analogue data
  • Summary journal article compiling results from an cores and modern analyses (Brewster-Wingard responsible)
  • Article for final synthesis volume targeting land managers and decision makers (Brewster-Wingard responsible)
  • Color brochure for distribution to the general public, perhaps through ENP
  • Abstracts for scientific meetings

FY 99 Activities:

Analyses on benthic fauna will proceed on cores collected in previous fiscal years following same methodology used on seven cores processed to date. Diatom analysis on cores will continue. Statistical methods, including cluster, and discriminant analysis will be used to test down-core assemblages and compare to modern analogues. Cores will be correlated to each other using the same statistical techniques. The South Florida Ecosystem History database will go online in an interactive mode so users can query the database for information such as seasonal salinity patterns at specific sites, assemblages of benthic fauna found under specific salinity regimes, substrate conditions, etc. In order to address questions raised about the historical distribution of seagrass, we will select 2-3 sites for coring and analysis, and will determine based on results of those analyses if more work is warranted. Field work collecting seasonal data at modern monitoring sites will continue, and data obtained to date will be compiled.

FY 99 Deliverables/Products:

FY 99 Outreach: OFR's are mailed to clients and cooperators as soon as reports are complete. A scientific synthesis article on Florida Bay will be completed in FY 99, specifically addressing results of salinity and seagrass studies, and putting our data in terms of the impact on decisions made by land managers. Regularly scheduled meetings win allow us to keep clients and cooperators up to date on our progress and results. The South Florida Ecosystem History database will be on line in FY 99 and will allow clients, cooperators, school children and the general public access to all of our data, and summaries of our results. The web page will include a section for school children and educators explaining the results and ways the data can be used for school projects.

**New Directions FY 99: Our results to date have indicated that less sub-aquatic vegetation existed prior to 1900 then can be found in Florida Bay during the later half of this century. These results have intrigued biologists and seagrass workers, and have profound implications in terms of the restoration of Florida Bay. It was the die-off of seagrass in the 1980's that provided the impetus for the research focused on the health and restoration of the bay. If our data indicate that the abundance of seagrass in the later half of this century is outside the "normal" range of variation, this implies we are attempting to restore something that naturally was not present. In addition, the presence or absence of seagrass affects the carbon budget of Florida Bay. Thus, interpretations of isotopic data can be skewed if assumptions are made about the presence of seagrass in the past. This issue is critical to the successful and sustainable restoration of Florida Bay. Based on our discussions with the seagrass biologists (including M. Robblee, BRD) and clients in south Florida, we believe this issue is worth pursuing. We plan to take 2-3 cores this year, at least one from an area that suffered die-off in the 1980's, and one from an area that remained relatively unaffected to see what information the faunal record preserves, and what is the long term seagrass history in those particular basins. We will use the results from these cores to determine the direction of future research on this issue.


FY 1998 Accomplishments and Outcomes, Including Outreach: To date we have completed the analyses of seven cores from the Florida Bay ecosystem. Our results show that natural variations in salinity and 5eagrass occurred in the Bay prior to 1900. These patterns appear to match climatic cycles tied to the ENSO. After 1940, however, the amplitude of change increases and the frequency of change is decoupled from the ENSO cycles. These results suggest an overprint of anthropogenic influence of the salinity and seagrass patterns. These results agree with the work done by colleagues at University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, and published papers by P. Swart and Tom Smith. Our specific accomplishments for FY 98 to date include the following:

  • Gave seminar at College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, VA on south Florida ecosystem history
  • Met with professor and student at College of William & Mary; developed senior research project for student related to history of shell bed distribution in Florida Bay
  • Presented data and met with clients at South Florida Ecosystem Initiative Paleoecology Workshop, January 98
  • Provided quarterly reports to SFWMD
  • Field work to collect samples from modern monitoring sites, February 98; added new sampling methodology specifically to look at seagrass epiphytes
  • Open File Report on Pass Key Core
  • Presented poster at USGS Open House in Reston on south Florida Ecosystem History
  • Completed analysis of 3 replicate cores; wrote up report for SFWMD
  • Presented 3 posters on benthic faunal data, diatom data, and the ecosystem history database at Florida Bay Science Conference
  • Presentation of materials from synthesis for SFWMD contract
  • Presented poster on South Florida ecosystem history at GSA Penrose Conference on Linking Spatial and Temporal Scales in Paleoecology and Ecology
  • Presented paper at International Coastal Symposium on ecosystem history of Florida Bay
  • Journal article on salinity seagrass distribution for cores analyzed to date, Journal of Coastal Research, special issue 26, p. 162-172.
  • Lecture on south Florida Ecosystem history at George Mason University, LIR Institute
  • Field work to collect samples from modern monitoring sites, July 98

FY 1998 Deliverables, Products Completed:

Brewster-Wingard, G.L., Ishman, S.E., Waibel, N.J.. Willard. D.A., Edwards, L.E.. and Holmes, C.W., 1998, Preliminary paleontologic report on Core 37, from Pass Key, Everglades National Park, Florida Bay: U.S. Geological Survey Open-file Report 98-122. 22 p.

Brewster-Wingard. G.L., Ishman, S.E., Holmes, C. W.. 1998, Environmental Impacts on the southern Florida Coastal Waters: A history of change in Florida Bay: Journal of Coastal Research, special issue 26, p. 162-172.

Brewster-Wingard, G.L., Ishman, S.E., Cronin, T.M., 1998, Historical salinity and seagrass trends in Florida Bay derived from benthic faunal data: Proceedings, 1998 Florida Bay Science Conference.

Cronin, T.M., Halley, R.B., Brewster-Wingard, G.L., Holmes, C. W., Dwyer, G.S., Ishman, S.E., 1998, Climatic and anthropogenic influence on Florida Bay Salinity over the past century: Proceedings, 1998 Florida Bay Science Conference.

Huvane, Jacqueline, Pyle, Laura, and Cooper,. S.R., 1998, Diatoms as paleoecological indicators of environmental change in the Florida Bay ecosystem: Proceedings, 1998 Florida Bay Science Conference.

Stone, J.R., and Brewster-Wingard, G.L., 1998, The south Florida Ecosystem History database: Proceedings, 1998 Florida Bay Science Conference.


Required Expertise (list by fiscal year for duration of project):

    FY 99 FY 2000
Lynn Brewster-Wingard Molluscan analyst X X
Scott Ishman Benthic Foraminiferal analyst X X
Tom Cronin Ostracode analyst X X
Debra Willard Pollen analyst X X
Jacqueline Huvane Diatom specialist X X
Gary Dwyer Biogeochemist X X
Chuck Holmes Geochronologist X X
Dave Verardo Charcoal analyst X X
Jeffery Stone Database developer X X
Patrick Buchanan GIS X X
Jeffery Stone Calcareous faunal processors X X
Kristi Alger   X X
One additional PST   X X
Neil Weibel Palynologic processors X X

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