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Introduction

map of principal habitats of Big Cypress National Preserve
Figure 1: Principal habitats of BCNP. [larger image]
The Big Cypress National Preserve (BCNP) is a low relief, seasonally inundated subtropical wetland that was established in 1974 to protect a large segment of the Big Cypress Swamp ecosystem, which covers an extensive portion of southwestern Florida (Duever et al., 1986). The establishment of this 295,245-ha preserve also helped to protect freshwater flow into the western portions of Everglades National Park (ENP) that lie downstream from BCNP. The preserve comprises a heterogeneous array of shallowly flooded forested and herbaceous wetlands, interspersed with upland pine forests and deep-water ponds and sloughs (Figure 1). The BCNP landscape is now crossed by an extensive system of canals that provide dry-season refuge and travel corridors for aquatic species, many of which are non-indigenous or euryhaline.

Previous Studies

Prior to our inventory, few studies had systematically documented the fish-community composition of the entire BCNP ecosystem. Kushlan (1974) observed and reported the effects a seasonal dry-down had on the fish within an alligator pond along Loop Road. Carlson and Duever (1979) monitored fish populations through an annual wet-season-dry-season cycle in a Corkscrew Swamp cypress strand north of BCNP. Fish sampling was also conducted during construction of the Jetport (now the Dade-Collier Transition and Training Airport), and during baseline studies of the BCNP Addition Lands administrative unit (Evans, 1970, Dalrymple, 1995). The Conservancy of Southwest Florida is currently conducting a fish-monitoring program in Fakahatchee Strand and the Golden Gate Estates (both west of BCNP), but results have not been published (David Ceilley, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, oral. comm. 2003). The most extensive BCNP fish sampling effort conducted in the region to date was by Loftus and Kushlan (1987), but was limited to the area south of U.S. Highway 41.

Objectives

This project was intended to fulfill the needs of the NPS I&M program for freshwater fishes in BCNP, and to begin a long-term research study of aquatic-animal dynamics in the preserve. The I&M program is a national initiative that is attempting to document 90% of the vertebrate and vascular plant species found on NPS properties. The data we collected also were intended to serve as a background for establishing a long-term study of fish and crustacean populations for eventual incorporation into CERP monitoring and assessment efforts. Specifically, our objectives were to:

  1. Inventory the freshwater fishes of BCNP to provide geo-referenced information about fish composition, richness, and distribution in aquatic habitats within preserve boundaries.
  2. Conduct methods testing to establish which sampling techniques are appropriate for long-term quantitative monitoring of fish populations across the range of varied aquatic habitat types found in BCNP.

In FY 05, the redirection of USGS funding into a new set of fish studies in BCNP ended the sampling study prematurely, but the effort has subsequently been funded by the CERP Monitoring and Assessment Program (CERP-MAP), and continues to collect data.


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