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Ecosystem History: Terrestrial and Fresh-water Ecosystems of southern Florida

Project Proposal for 1999

Continuing Project Workplan - FY 1999

Project Title: Ecosystem History: Terrestrial and Fresh-water Ecosystems of southern Florida
Geographic Area: South Florida
Project Start Date: October, 1994
Project End Date: September, 2000

Project Chief: Debra A. Willard
Region/Division/Team/Section: Eastern Region/Geologic Division/Eastern Region National Geologic Mapping Team
E-mail: dwillard@usgs.gov
Phone: (703) 648-5320
Fax: (703) 648-6953
Mail Address: U.S. Geological Survey
926A National Center
Reston, VA 20192
Program Element/Task: South Florida Element 2 - Modeling and support studies for southern inland coastal systems of south Dade County, Task 2.10 - Terrestrial and Fresh-water Ecosystem History

Summary: Changes in terrestrial ecosystems of southern Florida have been attributed to environmental alteration over the last century, but cause and effect relationships between environmental and biotic changes have not been documented scientifically. This project analyzes the floral and faunal records of southern Florida 1) over the last 150 years to determine whether specific biotic changes are correlated with anthropogenic or natural environmental changes and 2) over the last few thousand years to establish the natural range of variability of the ecosystem.

Objectives and Strategy: The project is designed to determine: 1) whether the distribution of vegetation changed over the south Florida region since 1850; 2) establish the timing of any such changes and determine whether they are correlated with onset of any human activities in the region; 3) determine whether such changes are manifested across the Everglades system (i.e., while increased abundances of cattails provide striking evidence of changes in hydroperiod and other edaphic characteristics near the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), did these changes have any affect on communities outside of the EAA?); 4) determine the baseline level of variability in biodiversity and vegetational distribution prior to human activity in the region (is it possible that the current state of the ecosystem represents an extreme in the naturally occurring cycles of change?); 5) determine whether fire frequency, extent, and influence prior to modem human disturbance of the ecosystem can be quantified; 6) if so, determine the historic equilibrium frequency of fire for a given region, climate, and floral community.

A series of short cores are being collected throughout southern Florida to document the floral, faunal, and fire history of the region in detail over the last 150 years and, on a broader scale, over the last few millenia; the particular focus is on the Taylor Slough and Buttonwood Embankment regions. Approximately 50 cores will be collected for analysis of floral, faunal, and charcoal abundances; these cores will be dated using 210Pb and 14C. Additionally, pollen, plant macrofossils, and invertebrate faunas will be analyzed from surface samples. These samples will be collected from sites throughout the region to maximize representation of modem plant communities; the resulting data will provide the basis for comparison with down-core assemblages to determine how much change in vegetational distribution has occurred. Analysis of these cores will result in a synthesis of vegetational changes at selected sites in the Water Conservation Areas, Big Cypress Preserve, and a more detailed overview of biotic and geochemical patterns in the Taylor Slough and Buttonwood Embankment regions.


Outside Partnerships:

This project is coordinated closely with personnel from the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to ensure that our data complements their research needs wherever possible. SFWMD needs data on historic patterns of vegetational change and fire frequency to calibrate their landscape models, and our site selection has been designed to accommodate the areal coverage needed by their model.

Additionally, SFWMD and the Florida Game and Fresh-Water Fish Commission (FGFWFC) each have initiated multi-year studies of tree islands, and we are providing data on the long-term vegetational history of tree islands in their study. These groups have provided logistical support for field work as well as substantial input into project design. Florida Geological Survey has provided some field supine and access to cores. In addition to these groups, results will be shared with other federal through local government agencies and with private organizations with interests in ecosystem history.

USGS Partnerships:

This project is closely linked with Chuck Holmes' (WRD) Buttonwood Embankment project, Bill Orem's (EERST) Geochemical Processes project, Lynn Brewster-Wingard's (ERNGMT) Florida Bay Ecosystem History project, Scott Ishman's (ERNGMT) Biscayne Bay Ecosystem History project, Robert Halley's (Marine Geology Team) Sedimentation, Sea-Level Rise, and Circulation in Florida Bay project, and Thomas Smith's (BRD) Landscape Dynamics of Mangroves project. 210Pb dates will be obtained from Chuck Holmes (WRD). Cross-linkages with other USGS projects are also expected to occur. In particular, Model Review; Vegetative Resistance to Flow; and Evapotranspiration Measurements and Modeling projects in the hydrologic modeling section would greatly benefit from insights into vegetation communities and ecosystem history.


YEAR 96 97 98 99
Coring x x x  
Sampling x x x  
Processing x x x x
Data Analysis x x x x
Write Papers   x x x
Drafts to Researchers   x x x
Final Drafts   x x x
Meet with Clients x x x x
Director's Approval       x

Major Tasks and Deliverables

  • Journal articles synthesizing vegetational trends throughout southern Florida, including detailed analysis of Taylor Slough region, and overviews of northern Everglades sites, Shark River Slough sites, and tree islands in WCA 3A (Willard, Weimer)
  • Publication of pollen atlas of southern Florida, both as peer-reviewed paper and as an interactive resource on the WWW (Willard, Weimer, Buchanan)
  • Reports on pollen analysis, peat petrography, and charcoal history of all analyzed cores (Willard, Weimer, Murray)
  • Synthesis article-with other ecosystem history projects on regional biotic changes in the Everglades, Florida Bay, and Biscayne Bay. (Willard in collaboration with other USGS project chiefs)
  • Vegetational reconstructions for selected time slices (Willard)

FY 1999 Activities:

  • Complete processing and analysis of cores collected through FY 1998
  • Field work on tree islands in collaboration with SFWMD and FGFWFC
  • Write reports and articles for peer-reviewed journals synthesizing data

FY 1999 Deliverables/Products:

  • Publication of journal article (Biotic and Geochemical Changes in the south Florida Ecosystem over the last Two Millennia) with C. Holmes, W. Orem, J. Murray, and L. Weimer (USGS)
  • Publication of Pollen Atlas of Water Conservation Area 2A with L. Weimer (USGS) and S. Cooper and J. Jensen (Duke University)
  • Publication of journal article on ecosystem history of Taylor Slough area with L. Weimer (USGS)
  • Series of Open-file reports with data from pollen analysis of cores
  • Release of data on WWW site
  • Development of WWW page for Terrestrial Ecosystem History
  • Presentation of data in GIS format


We are working closely with personnel at the South Florida Water Management District and Florida Game and Fresh-Water Fish Commission in selecting sites for analysis to maximize the impact of this research on their needs. In addition to contact via phone and e-mail, we meet with scientists at the District when we are in the area doing field work and have presented seminars on results to date. We also interact with other collaborators and clients at a number of meetings throughout the year.


In FY 99, we will undertake field work for new tree island studies underway at both SFWMD and FGFWFC; these are new multi-year projects aimed at understanding the formation and history of tree islands and the likely impact of changing water management strategies on the tree islands.


1998 Accomplishments and Outcomes:

  • Documented vegetational response to changes in water-management and land-use practices throughout the region over the last 150 years
  • Documented the ecosystem response to climatic changes over the last two millennia
  • Completed analyses and photography for pollen atlas of about 200 species from Water Conservation Area 2A
  • Completed analyses of charcoal content and peat petrography from cores

1998 Deliverables, Products Completed:

Willard, Debra A., Brewster-Wingard, Lynn, Fellman, Claire, and Ishman, Scott E., 1997. Paleontological Data from Mud Creek Core 1, southern Florida. USGS Open-file Report 97-736.

Willard, Debra A., 1997. Pollen census data from southern Florida: sites along a nutrient gradient in Water Conservation Area 2A. USGS Open-file Report 97-497.

Willard, Debra A., and Weimer, Lisa M., 1997. Palynological census data from surface samples in south Florida. USGS Open-file Report 97-867.

Willard, Debra A., Holmes, Charles, W., Murray, James, M., Orem, William H., and Weimer, Lisa M., Submitted. Biotic and geochemical changes in the south Florida ecosystem over the last two millennia. Science.

Weimer, Lisa M., 1998, Taylor Slough, Dade Co., Florida: A Vegetational History. M.S. Thesis, Biology Department, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA.

Willard, Debra A., and Murray, James M. in prep. Peat petrography and charcoal content of cores from southern Florida. USGS Open-file Report.


Required Expertise:

  97 98 99
Palynologist 1 1 1
Pollen prep/analysis 3 3 3
Charcoal/Peat prep/GIS 1 1 1
Diatom Analyst 1 1  
Mollusk Analyst 1 1  
Foram Analyst 1 1  
Ostracode Analyst 1 1  

Names of Key Project Staff:

Palynologist Debra Willard
Pollen prep/analysis/GIS Lisa Weimer, Neil Waibel, Patrick Buchanan
Charcoal/Peat prep James Murray

Major Equipment/Facility Needs: None

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Last updated: 24 April, 2014 @ 01:07 PM (KP)