FCE research began in 2000 with a focus on providing an understanding key coastal
ecosystem processes while also developing a platform for and linkages to related work in the wider
Everglades research community. The primary research objective was to determine how freshwater from
oligotrophic (nutrient-poor) marshes interacts with a marine source of the limiting nutrient,
phosphorus (P), to control productivity in the estuarine ecotone - the zone where freshwater and
marine supplies meet in the coastal Everglades. Researchers expected that primary productivity (the
amount of living material produced by plants) would be greatest where freshwater supplies meet
marine waters where P is more available. Permanent sites for regular sampling of water, soils,
plants and animals were established along the main Everglades drainages, Taylor Slough-Panhandle
(TS/Ph) and Shark River Slough (SRS), from freshwater canal inputs to the Gulf of Mexico. Research
showed a wedge of increasing productivity toward the coast along the SRS transect where tides and
storms delivery P-rich water to the mangrove forest. However, scientists also found an unexpected
productivity peak in the estuarine ecotone of the TS/Ph transect, due to brackish groundwater
delivery of P to ecotone plant communities. This work demonstrated how the Everglades are
functionally "upside-down" relative to the classic estuary model, with seawater supplying limiting
nutrients landward, rather than the other way around. These findings led us to further expand our
trans-disciplinary research examining how freshwater flow restoration interacts with climate
variability to influence the shape of this productivity gradient.
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.
Phase II research focused further on the estuarine ecotones, particularly investigating
how changes in freshwater flow brought about by restoration activities would impact ecosystem
processes in these unique areas. Everglades Restoration was geared toward enhancing freshwater
inflow to SRS but not to TS/Ph during this period, providing a landscape-scale "Grand Experiment"
test ideas about the function of this critical zone. However, delays in restoration projects caused
scientists to postpone these plans, but in a way that would prove to be beneficial to restoration
guidance. While restoration projects were stalled, researchers were able to characterize a high
degree of variability from year to year in the ecosystem, driven by climate cycles and storm
activities. For example, hydrologists were able to measure the rate that brackish groundwater moves
into the estuarine ecotone during wet and dry years, resulting in improved targets for freshwater
flow restoration that cover the range of natural climate variability experienced in the ecosystem.
Researchers also showed how periodic storms can deliver coastal sediments and nutrients to the
ecotone, further stimulating mangrove and seagrass production - in fact, making them among the most
productive ecosystems on the planet. The carbon thereby generated can be stored in place or move
about the ecosystem - FCE researchers have shown how carbon moves both in the water but also in the
bodies of animals, including big sharks and alligators.
Phase II of the FCE-LTER project was divided into four working groups. Each working
group focused on a set of key research questions and/or major processes that are being quantified.
Four cross-cutting themes addressed large-scale issues that have impacts within all of
the working groups. Research occurring under these cross-cutting themes focuses on "big picture"
questions and research applications.
In FCE III, the FCE program has expanded its capacity in human dimensions
research to explore how legacies of resource use decisions shape both the
existing environment as well as future socio-ecological response to rapid climate
and land-use change in this highly vulnerable landscape. Delays in freshwater
restoration are increasing the rates and distance of intrusion of saltwater and
nutrients into the interior of the Everglades, promoting continued landward
movement of mangroves while reducing the areal extent of freshwater marsh. FCE
III research is: 1) evaluating the source of socio-political conflicts over water
distribution, and how solutions that improve inflows to the Everglades reduce or
delay the effects of SLR on estuarine conditions in the coastal zone; 2)
determining how the balance of fresh and marine water supplies to the oligohaline
ecotone will control the rates and pathways of carbon
(C) sequestration, storage,
and export by influencing P availability, water residence time, and salinity; 3)
characterizing spatial-temporal patterns in ecosystem sensitivity to, and
of, modifications of freshwater delivery to the Everglades that are
driven by climate variability and land-use change, and; 4) developing future
of freshwater distribution and use that maximize the
human-environmental sustainability in regions like south Florida that face SLR.
FCE scientists have discovered that sea level continues to rise in ways that
impact coastal areas of the Everglades and urban Miami. We will know which of the
sea level rise projections used by modelers are correct for our region in another
15-20 years. We have found that increasing exposure to marine water supplies are
leading to the collapse of organic soils throughout the coastal zone, so we are
conducting experiments to identify the causes. We are using our long-term
datasets and experiments to improve our estimates of how freshwater restoration
will prolong these effects of sea level rise, providing time for adaptation and
mitigation of climate change impacts on coastal Florida. Through comparative
research in other coastal areas, we are determining whether changes observed in
the Everglades can be used to forecast changes in other coastal regions
Phase III of the FCE-LTER project maintains the four working groups of FCE II.
Each working group focused on a set of key research questions and/or major
processes that are being quantified.
Four cross-cutting themes addressed large-scale issues that have impacts within
all of the working groups. Research occurring under these cross-cutting themes
focuses on "big picture" questions and research applications.