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South Florida as a regional system of man and nature

The early ecosystem

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Before 1900 south Florida was a vast wilderness of bays, marshes, swamps, pine forests, and prairies. Each of these natural features was defined by physical and chemical conditions of the land, by climate, and by representative plants, animals, and microbes, which together constituted an ecosystem. Each ecosystem was sustained by sunlight, wind, rain, nutrients, and along the coast by tides and currents. Each, however, was not isolated, but was dependent on nearby ecosystems for some of its nutrients, water, or wildlife. Freshwater runoff, for example, nourished the interior marshes and carried needed nutrients to the bays. Each of the interdependent ecosystems, then, was a subsystem of the regional ecosystem.

Ecosystems evolve in geologic time. The living components adapt to one another and to the nonliving environment. If climate and other environmental conditions remain relatively stable, ecosystems tend toward steady-state or climax conditions. In south Florida, warm weather and abundant freshwater and sunlight over the last few thousand years allowed relatively stable and biologically productive ecosystems to develop. The waters of the region abounded with fish and other aquatic animals, and these in turn supported large numbers of reptiles, birds, and mammals.

Indians came into the region more than 2,000 years ago but had virtually disappeared by 1800. They were mostly coastal dwellers and relied primarily on fish and shellfish, supplemented with wild game and wild plants. During the 1800's the Seminole Indians were driven into south Florida where they developed a way of life compatible with the ecosystem. The Seminoles were an agricultural people, but in south Florida they supplemented farming with hunting. Gardens were kept, but because of the scarcity of dry land they were limited (Tebeau, 1973). Less than 300 Seminoles were living in the region (Kersey, 1973) in the late 1800's. Their general way of life was disrupted during the 1900's by modifications made to the ecosystem.

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