In the Everglades, two estuarine ecotones, the Shark River Slough/Gulf of Mexico ecotone and the Taylor Slough/Florida Bay ecotone, are of interest to FCE-LTER researchers. These ecotones are characterized by higher rates of primary productivity or the amount of living material produced when nutrients and energy from sunlight are used to create plant tissues than upstream marshes, which are naturally oligotrophic, or nutrient poor.
Scientists once thought that the presence of phosphorus-rich marine water in these ecotones was responsible for the high rates of productivity. They also thought that the Taylor Slough/Florida Bay estuarine ecotone would have reduced rates of productivity compared to the Shark River Slough/Gulf of Mexico ecotone since Florida Bays low tidal action would inhibit marine phosphorus from entering the ecotone. Phase I of the FCE-LTER project investigated these hypotheses.
FCE-LTER researchers also examined how changes in freshwater quality and quantity resulting from Everglades restoration projects, sea level rise due to climate change, and disturbances, such as hurricanes and fires may alter patterns of productivity in these regions. Investigating patterns of primary production was the task of one of seven FCE-LTER working groups.
Phase I of the FCE-LTER project was divided into seven working groups. Each working group focused on a set of key research questions and/or major processes that were being quantified.