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Florida Coastal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research Site

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NSF Award:

FCE LTER II: Coastal Oligotrophic Ecosystems Research  (Florida International University)

Research Focus

The Florida Coastal Everglades (FCE) Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Program was established in 2000 in south Florida, where a rapidly growing population of over 6 million people lives in close proximity to -- and in dependence upon -- the Florida Everglades. Program research focuses on an area where freshwater and estuarine vegetation mix, known as the oligohaline ecotone. FCE LTER researchers study how hydrology, climate and human activities affect ecosystem and population dynamics in the ecotone and more broadly, the Florida Coastal Everglades.

The program is based at Florida International University and includes more than 70 senior scientists and graduate students from numerous institutions.

Research Outcomes

Program research published in 2012 showed that seagrass ecosystems can store up to twice as much carbon as the world's temperate and tropical forests. The study was the first global analysis of carbon stored in seagrasses and important for providing new evidence that conserving and restoring seagrass meadows may reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon stores.

In another FCE LTER study, scientists found that American alligators swim into the brackish waters of estuaries, places where rivers meet the sea, out into the coastal zone and back again. These "commuter" alligators connect very different habitats, creating links between marine, estuarine and freshwater food webs. The research offered evidence that alligators are instrumental in transferring nutrients over large distances between habitats in coastal wetland ecosystems.

FCE scientists also discovered that, unlike in most coastal areas, the natural source of phosphorus (a nutrient that limits ecosystem productivity) for coastal Caribbean estuaries is seawater, not inland environments. This important finding has ramifications for both restoration and conservation and is informing decision making in coastal areas.

In still other research, FCE scientists revealed how human-induced nutrient enrichment in the Everglades and Caribbean wetlands affect the productivity paradox--in which an extraordinarily high level of algal growth supports far fewer aquatic animal consumers than expected. Understanding this dynamic is critical to Everglades’s restoration.

Education & Outreach

The FCE-LTER team links science with Everglades’s restoration to provide reliable, continuous and growing knowledge transfer, from basic ecological theory to the development of more effective environmental management and restoration/rehabilitation programs.

The team has developed an education and outreach program targeted at K-12 students, teachers and the general public. ForEVERGLADES, a presentation on the organisms, habitats, and physical environment of the Everglades, has been shared with over 3,500 individuals and emphasizes the role of humans in the Everglades ecosystem.

Other outreach includes television programs, video conference presentations, a high school student internship program and a ranger education program with Everglades National Park.

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Images (1 of )

  • Field work at the Florida Coastal Everglades LTER
  • Alligator swimming in Everglades
  • Lab work at Florida Coastal Everglades LTER
  • Sunrise in Everglades
  • Shoreline, Everglades in Florida
Sharon Ewe and Edward Castaneda measuring mangrove seedlings along transects
Victor H. Rivera-Monroy FCE LTER
American alligator swimming in the Shark River estuary
Garrett Miller FCE LTER
Robert Twilley sewing decomposition bags for mangrove root decomposition experiment
Nicole Poret FCE LTER
Tarpon Bay sunrise
Jennifer Rehage FCE LTER
Fringe mangrove forest
Victor H. Rivera-Monroy FCE LTER