Aquatic Sciences

, Volume 77, Issue 2, pp 271–291 | Cite as

Environmental assessment of vegetation and hydrological conditions in Everglades freshwater marshes using multiple geochemical proxies

  • Colin J. Saunders
  • Min Gao
  • Rudolf Jaffé
Research Article


Paleoecological reconstructions of environmental changes provide important information for Everglades restoration targets. Traditionally this has been achieved using a combination of biological and physical indicators. However, as microfossils may be sporadically abundant in Everglades soils, organic geochemical methods can provide information at the molecular level. To reconstruct vegetation trends over the last century, soil cores from Shark to Taylor Sloughs, the primary flowpaths of the southern Everglades, were examined using several geochemical proxies. The n-alkane derived biomarker Paq effectively distinguished organic inputs from sawgrass and slough habitats. Other proxies examined include Kaurenes, cyclic diterpenoids unique to sawgrass roots; biomarkers of algae (highly branched isoprenoids (C20HBIs) and Botryococcenes); lignin phenols as vascular plant indicators; and macrofossils. At all sites, soil profiles from sawgrass marshes showed vegetation had shifted over the last 100 years, from sloughs to sawgrass-dominated marshes, reflecting decreased water levels (shorter hydroperiods) induced by water management. Paleo-assessments of modern sloughs, however, indicate these habitats remained deeper water habitats throughout the period of record, though shifts toward shorter hydroperiod vegetation were observed. In Taylor Slough, evidence of increasingly dry conditions in sloughs was confirmed by seed inputs from woody species. At 3 of the 5 sites, recent increases in C20HBIs and Botryococcene concentrations indicated greater periphyton abundance, coincidental with increased mineral concentrations observed in surface waters during the mid-20th Century. Bulk proxies such as organic content and carbon:nitrogen ratios also supported findings of changes in relative contributions of microbial and higher plants in this ecosystem.


Everglades Molecular Biomarkers Macrofossils Paleoecology Hydrology 



This research was supported by the National Science Foundation under grant number DEB-9910514 for the Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research program (FCE LTER: The authors thank the Graduate School of Florida International University (FIU) for providing a Dissertation Year Fellowship for MG. RJ thanks SERC for additional support through the George Barley Endowment. The authors thank N. Maie for his assistance with the lignin phenol analyses, and S. Ewe, T. Grahl, G. Losada, G. Juszli, G. Koch, D. Rondeau, C. Taylor, R. Urgelles and J. Wozniak for their assistance in the field. We thank J. Anderson, R. Bahe, N. Brisbane, A. Bubp, L. Calle, J. Dee, S. Diaz, N. Gale, B. Hiaasen, M. Oates, C. Sanchez, F. Santamaria, and E. Wunderlich for their assistance in the lab. We thank M. Ross and M. Kline (Florida International University) and researchers of the Wetland Biogeochemistry Laboratory, Soil and Water Science Department, University of Florida, and the South Florida Water Management District (and in particular S. Newman) for providing soil chemistry data for the WCA-3B1 and NE-SRS1 sites. This is contribution 699 of the Southeast Environmental Research Center.

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© Springer Basel 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Everglades Systems AssessmentSouth Florida Water Management DistrictWest Palm BeachUSA
  2. 2.Environmental Geochemistry Group, Southeast Environmental Research Center (SERC) and Department of Chemistry and BiochemistryFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA

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