Journal of Paleolimnology

, Volume 49, Issue 1, pp 67–81 | Cite as

Historic primary producer communities linked to water quality and hydrologic changes in the northern Everglades

  • Matthew N. WatersEmail author
  • Joseph M. Smoak
  • Colin J. Saunders
Original paper


The northern Everglades Water Conservation Areas have experienced recent ecological shifts in primary producer community structure involving marl periphyton mats and dense Typha-dominated macrophyte stands. Multiple investigations have identified phosphorus (P) as a driver of primary producer community structure, but effects of water impoundment beginning in the 1950s and changes in water hardness [e.g., (CaCO3)] have also been identified as a concern. In an effort to understand pre-1950, primary producer community structure and identify community shifts since 1950, we measured pigment proxies on three sediment cores collected in Water Conservation Area-2A (WCA-2A) along a phosphorus enrichment gradient. Photosynthetic pigments, sediment total phosphorus content (TP), organic matter, total organic carbon and nitrogen were used to infer historic primary producer communities and changes in water quality and hydrology regulating those communities. Excess 210Pb was used to establish historic dates for the sediment cores. Results indicate the northern area of WCA-2A increased marl deposition and increased algal abundance ca. 1920. This increase in (presumably) calcareous periphyton before intensive agriculture and impoundment suggest canal-derived calcium inputs and to some extent early drainage effects played a role in initiating this community shift. The northern area community then shifted to Typha dominance around 1965. The areas to the south in WCA-2A experienced increased marl deposition and algal abundance around or just prior to 1950s impoundment, the precise timing limited by core age resolution. Continued increases in algal abundance were evident after 1950, coinciding with impoundment and deepening of canals draining into WCA-2A, both likely increasing water mineral and nutrient concentrations. The intermediate site developed a Typha-dominated community ca. 1995 while the southern-most core site WCA-2A has yet to develop Typha dominance. Numerous studies link sediment TP >650 mg P/kg to marsh habitat degradation into Typha-dominance. The northern and intermediate cores where Typha is currently support this previous research by showing a distinct shift in the sediment record to Typha dominance corresponding to sediment TP between 600 and 700 mg P/kg. These temporal and spatial differences are consistent with modern evidence showing water-column gradients in mineral inputs (including Ca, carbonates, and phosphorus) altering primary producer community structure in WCA-2A, but also suggest hydroperiod has an effect on the mechanisms regulating periphyton development and Typha dominance.


Florida Everglades Paleoecology Photosynthetic pigments Phosphorus Marl 



This research was funded by the South Florida Water Management District. Phosphorus was analyzed at the University of Florida Land Use and Environmental Change Institute (LUECI) with the help of William Kenney. Organic carbon and nitrogen were analyzed at Florida State University, National High Magnetic Field Laboratory by Drs. Xu and Wang. Christian Sanders assisted with core collection, and Biliana Ivanova assisted with core collection, core sectioning, sample preparations and 210Pb analysis. This material is also based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation-funded FCE-LTER program under Grant No. DEB-9910514.

Supplementary material

10933_2011_9569_MOESM1_ESM.tif (1.5 mb)
ESM Figure 1. Timeline of key changes in primary producer communities (a) demonstrated in previous (top panels) and current (bottom) paleoecological studies in WCA-2A. Gray shaded areas represent the time domain captured in each study. Timeline of qualitative changes in hydrology (b) based on historic records and paleoecological studies. Timeline of changes in sugarcane production (hectares) in the Everglades Agricultural Area (c). References are indicated in parentheses: (1) Cohen et al. 1999; (2) Willard et al. 2001; (3) Slate and Stevenson 2000); (4) Light and Dineen 1994; (5) Rutchey et al. 2008; and (6) Snyder and Davidson 1994. Supplementary material 1 (TIFF 1520 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew N. Waters
    • 1
    Email author
  • Joseph M. Smoak
    • 2
  • Colin J. Saunders
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of BiologyValdosta State UniversityValdostaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Environmental Science, Policy and GeographyUniversity of South FloridaSaint PetersburgUSA
  3. 3.South Florida Waters Management DistrictWest Palm BeachUSA

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