An Ecological Characterization of Tree Islands in the Loxahatchee Refuge
Tree islands are an important component of the Everglades landscape and are a signature feature of the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. Tree islands provide high ground in an otherwise wetland mosaic and are believed to provide habitat for a wide range of plant and animal species. Tree islands are sensitive to changes in hydrologic conditions, and the presence of exotics. Because of their tie to appropriate hydrologic conditions, tree islands can be used as an indicator of the potential impacts of changes to hydrologic conditions. Changes in water management as a result of Everglades restoration efforts, natural drought, flood events, and invasion by exotics have the potential to affect the health and suitability of tree islands for native plants and animals. These changes could result in an overall change in the ecological function of tree islands and subsequently the ecological integrity of the refuge. In order to assess the potential impacts of hydrologic and exotic impacts, information is needed on the ecological characteristics of tree islands. These ecological characteristics include: vegetation, faunal use, elevation, origin, size, shape, and spatial arrangement. Collection and synthesis of data on these attributes allow managers to make more informed decisions on water management and control of exotics.
Objectives of this project include: 1) Evaluate data on tree island flora and fauna, 2) Maintain ongoing studies of tree island ecology, and 3) Develop a plan of work that will outline the steps for the completion of an ecological characterization of tree islands.