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projects > wildlife indicators of greater everglades restoration progress, climate change, and shifts in ecosystem services > work plan

Project Work Plan

Department of Interior USGS GE PES
Fiscal Year 2013 Study Work Plan

Study Title: Wildlife indicators of Greater Everglades restoration progress, climate change, and shifts in ecosystem services
Study Start Date: 01 October 2012
Study End Date: 30 September 2013, with possibility of future funding tied to progress
Duration: 12 months
Location (Subregions, Counties, Park or Refuge): Southwest Florida's Greater Everglades, Big Cypress Basin
Funding Source: GE PES
Other Complementary Funding Sources: none
Funding History: FY12, GE PES
Principal Investigators: Stephanie S. Romañach, USGS
Study Personnel: Elise V. Pearlstine, University of Florida; David Tafoya, University of Florida; Kelsey Chambers, University of Florida; Ian Bartoszek, Conservancy of Southwest Florida
Supporting Organizations: USGS, University of Florida
Associated / Linked Studies: Joint Ecosystem Modeling: Greater Everglades Modeling Decision Support Tools and Ecosystem Models at IMC

Overview & Objective(s): Some of the major benefits to be provided by a restored Greater Everglades ecosystem are improved ecosystem services such as enhanced groundwater purification, increased recreational activity, and additional and improved wildlife habitat. Bird watching of wading birds and waterfowl is the primary form of wildlife viewing tourism in Florida, generating over $3 billion in revenue annually from 1.5 million people engaging.

Many of the interior marshes of the Greater Everglades are well studied as habitat for wading birds. However, little is known about the importance of interior marshes near the coasts of the Greater Everglades for shorebirds. Migrating shorebirds are dependent on some of the interior marshes throughout North America for foraging and resting along their routes. Cheyenne Bottoms, for example, a 40,000 acre interior marsh in Kansas is used by 90% of North America's populations of Wilson's phalarope, long-billed dowitcher, white-rumped sandpiper, Baird's sandpiper, and stilt sandpiper.

As restoration project implementation progresses in the Greater Everglades, interior marshes near coastal areas may undergo changes in salinity, hydroperiod, and water depth. Interior marshes near the coasts are currently experiencing increases in salinity and more dramatically, marsh habitat has been disappearing to encroaching mangroves. Additionally, potential increases in storm and flooding frequencies could further alter interior coastal marsh habitats. Freshwater flows should increase as a result of ecosystem restoration and lead to improved habitat for birds and other wildlife. Increased freshwater flow will have the added benefit of providing runoff at the coasts, resulting in more natural salinities at the fringing estuarine ecosystem. These changes may mitigate saltwater intrusion into the mainland and will likely improve habitat for endangered species such as manatees and crocodiles, as well as other species of tourism importance such as birds. However, freshwater flows might also alter wildlife usage of these interior marshes if changes in timing or duration of water levels are outside of the range needed, for example, by foraging marsh birds and shorebirds.

Coastal communities that rely on a balance between fresh and salt water can be indicators for ecosystem change. Measuring the abilities of fauna such as shorebirds to successfully forage in the interior marshes of the Greater Everglades can help quantify the impacts from restoration and climate change as well as forecast shifts in ecosystem services benefits.

Specific Relevance to Major Unanswered Questions and Information Needs Identified:

Status:

During the last half of FY12, 40 bird survey locations were selected – 20 at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park (FSPSP) and 20 at the neighboring Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge (TTINWR; Figure 1). Hydrologic wells were installed at the 20 odd numbered sites in September 2012. Data collection (hydrologic measurements, environmental condition measurements, bird survey [5-minute point counts]) began on 9 October 2012.

map showing 40 survey locations at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park and Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge
Figure 1: Map of bird community study region. Green dots represent the 20 survey locations at Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge and 20 at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. [larger image]

The Greater Everglades restoration project that will have the most direct influence on these coastal areas is the restoration of Picayune Strand State Forest (Figure 1). Restoration includes plugging 83 miles of canals, removing 227 miles of roads, and the addition of three pump stations and spreader swales to move water across the landscape and restore the natural direction of water flow as shown in Figure 1.

In FY12, 22 bird monitoring sites were selected in the Picayune Strand Restoration Project (PSRP) footprint. Bird monitoring sites were selected to be at the South Florida Water Management District hydrologic monitoring wells (Figure 2). Bird community data will be related to hydrologic conditions through time.

map showing bird monitoring sites at Picayune Strand Restoration Project
Figure 2: Bird monitoring sites at PSRP. [larger image]

Planned Products: In FY13 will produce:

WORK PLAN

This study will be carried out in two parts, coastal and upland.

Coastal

The coastal research is being conducted at Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge (TTINWR) and in a comparison site in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park (FSPSP). TTINWR, located south of PSRP, will be receiving overland flow of freshwater as restoration progresses and the canals in Picayune are plugged. Fakahatchee is located adjacent to the east of TTINWR and freshwater flow is not planned to reach the area east of the 'chain of lakes' where the control site is located.

Changes in bird species assemblages may serve as indicators of change in water levels or hydroperiod during sensitive times of year for foraging. In the future, the interior marshes of TTINWR will be impacted from the north by freshwater moving south from Picayune in addition to the currently measured sea level rise and saltwater intrusion. Freshwater flow through TTI from the north may serve to slow the rate of vegetative change (i.e., marsh loss to mangrove encroachment) and help retain the Eleocharis marsh which is an important foraging ground for shorebirds in TTI. Freshwater flow may also result in increased water levels and extended hydroperiods that may impact foraging ability of shorebirds and other wading birds in these interior marshes.

This project will monitor bird species assemblage in the interior marsh of TTINWR and FSPSP over time in relation to water levels, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and invertebrate prey. Bird use of the marsh will be monitored including recording numbers (by species) all birds detected, including shorebirds, wading birds, and waterfowl. Water level, salinity, and dissolved oxygen are recorded during each bird survey. Data will be collected before Picayune restoration is complete, during the restoration process, and after.

Bird surveys and environmental data collection began at the start of FY13, in early October and will continue through the wet and into the dry season. Surveys are conducted every other week. Data collection from October through December has shown dropping water depths and temperatures and increased bird species abundance and diversity. Fish and aquatic invertebrate surveys will span the high, mid, and low wet season (December, October, February) and are being carried out by Ian Bartoszek at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

In future years, data from this project can be used with three predictive modeling efforts. The first of these modeling approaches will be to link field observations to species distribution models (climate envelope models linked with habitat, Phase 1 of this project). Models of climate linked with habitat will allow us to project into the future to show where these species might occur in the future to assist with land and habitat management and planning. The second modeling approach will be in using salinity and water level components of the dynamic Flow and Transport in a Linked Overland/Aquifer Density Dependent System (FTLOADDS) model coupled with a habitat data layer to create a Habitat Suitability Index model for shorebirds and other wading birds. The third modeling approach that will be explored is to use the numerical hydrologic and salinity model developed for TTINWR by the National Wetlands Research Center and the University of Louisiana, Lafayette. This model can help determine future hydrologic patterns and salinities given different upstream freshwater release scenarios. Exploring the use of these models tied to bird species habitat, water level, and water salinity requirements could be useful for wildlife and land management planning.

Upland

The upland research is being conducted in PSRP. The PSRP is in the process of restoring pre-drainage hydrology to this portion of the Greater Everglades ecosystem. Wildlife species and their prey species are good indicators of ecosystem change and restoration, especially restoration of a more natural hydrology as is planned for PSRP. Restoration of this area will provide increased habitat for important Everglades species but is also expected to restore connectivity within and between natural areas adjacent to the project areas such as FSPSP and Florida Panther NWR.

This project will monitor bird species assemblages in PSRP over time in relation to water levels and invertebrate prey. Bird use of the marsh will be monitored including recording numbers (by species) all birds detected at each of 22 well locations in PSRP (Figure 2). Data will be collected before Picayune restoration is complete, during the restoration process, and after.

Bird surveys and environmental data collection began at the start of FY13, in early October and will continue through the wet and into the dry season. Surveys are conducted every four weeks. Fish and aquatic invertebrate surveys will be conducted when and where possible. Canal drainage limits the aquatic sampling sites as early as the mid wet season. Terrestrial invertebrate surveys will be conducted at all 22 well sites (using both sweep net and pitfall trap methods) in the fall and spring.

Methods are being coordinated with other federal and state agencies as well as NGOs to assure consistency of methods and timing for comparison between important Greater Everglades areas.

This study can provide information on the progress of these indicators of ecosystem restoration over a period of years to include wet years and dry years, as well as over a spatial extent encompassing a variety of habitat types. Tracking trend relative to other area surveys such as Everglades National Park, WCA3 and other will aid in discrimination of whether observed changes in abundance are from local changes in condition or are related to regional variability. This study is designed to capture patterns in invertebrate prey communities that reflect hydrologic restoration including species composition, relative abundance or and/or concentration in response to hydrologic change. In future years, wading bird nesting success and colony location could be documented as restoration efforts continue and will be used to assess potential success of hydrologic restoration.

Database

Data from both coastal and upland projects will be made available via a web interface for land managers, decision makers, scientists, and other interested parties. The database is being developed by Joint Ecosystem Modeling and will include data from many investigators throughout the Greater Everglades. The map interface will allow users to click on icons to explore the data housed.

Benefits

Greater Everglades restoration partners will want to learn from restoration of Picayune Strand as the first of its kind. One of the major benefits of Picayune Strand restoration will be to provide overland water flow to TTINWR; however, it is unknown whether the timing and duration of water flow will be for the benefit of wildlife species of interest and concern. Understanding how wildlife responds to flow patterns post-restoration will be of great value to scientists, land managers, and other decision makers.

Results of this study will provide information about the usage of southwest Florida's interior marshes by bird communities. Results will also allow natural resource managers to examine potential effects of restoration and climate change on wildlife under their stewardship in the context of ecosystem and landscape management planning.