Wetlands Ecology and Management

, Volume 18, Issue 3, pp 343–355 | Cite as

Water source utilization and foliar nutrient status differs between upland and flooded plant communities in wetland tree islands

  • Amartya K. Saha
  • Leonel da Silveira O’Reilly Sternberg
  • Michael S. Ross
  • Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm
Original Paper


Tree islands in the Everglades wetlands are centers of biodiversity and targets of restoration, yet little is known about the pattern of water source utilization by the constituent woody plant communities: upland hammocks and flooded swamp forests. Two potential water sources exist: (1) entrapped rainwater in the vadose zone of the organic soil (referred to as upland soil water), that becomes enriched in phosphorus, and (2) phosphorus-poor groundwater/surface water (referred to as regional water). Using natural stable isotope abundance as a tracer, we observed that hammock plants used upland soil water in the wet season and shifted to regional water uptake in the dry season, while swamp forest plants used regional water throughout the year. Consistent with the previously observed phosphorus concentrations of the two water sources, hammock plants had a greater annual mean foliar phosphorus concentration over swamp forest plants, thereby supporting the idea that tree island hammocks are islands of high phosphorus concentrations in the oligotrophic Everglades. Foliar nitrogen levels in swamp forest plants were higher than those of hammock plants. Linking water sources with foliar nutrient concentrations can indicate nutrient sources and periods of nutrient uptake, thereby linking hydrology with the nutrient regimes of different plant communities in wetland ecosystems. Our results are consistent with the hypotheses that (1) over long periods, upland tree island communities incrementally increase their nutrient concentration by incorporating marsh nutrients through transpiration seasonally, and (2) small differences in micro-topography in a wetland ecosystem can lead to large differences in water and nutrient cycles.


Tree islands Ecohydrology Everglades Stable isotopes Foliar nutrients 



We thank Pablo Ruiz, Jay Sah, Brooke Shamblin, Mike Kline, Daniel Gomez and the Florida Coastal Ecosystems LTER project (NSF DBI-0620409) for logistical help and access to the tree islands via airboat in the wet season and helicopter in the dry season. The extensive fieldwork and laboratory sample processing was achieved in a limited window of time with valuable help from Patrick Ellsworth, Xin Wang, Diane Toledo, Jeanette Rivera, John Cozza and several others. Dave Janos, Lucero Sevillano and Lucas Silva gave critical comments on the manuscript. Sonali Saha helped with the data analysis. This research was supported by NSF Grant (0322051) awarded to LdOSL and FMW.


  1. Aerts R, Chapin FS (eds) (2000) The mineral nutrition of wild plants revisited: a revaluation of processes and patterns, vol 30. Academic Press, San Diego, CA, pp 1–67Google Scholar
  2. Alexander T, Crook A (1974) Recent vegetational changes in Southern Florida. In: Gleason PJ (ed) Environments of South Florida: past and present, vol Memoir 2. Miami Geological Society, Miami, pp 61–72Google Scholar
  3. Armentano T, Jones D, Ross M, Gamble B (2002) Vegetation pattern and process in tree islands of the southern Everglades and adjacent areas. In: Van der Valk F, Sklar F (eds) Tree islands of the Everglades. Kluwer, Netherlands, pp 19–69Google Scholar
  4. Baldwin JP (1975) A quantitative analysis of the factors affecting plant nutrient uptake from some soils. Eur J Soil Sci 26:195–206CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Boerner R (1984) Foliar nutrient dynamics and nutrient use efficiency of four deciduous tree species in relation to site fertility. J Appl Ecol 21:1029–1040CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Busch DE, Ingraham NL, Smith SD (1992) Water uptake in woody Riparian phreatophytes of the southwestern United States: a stable isotope study. Ecol Appl 2(4):450–459CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Campo J, Dirzo R (2003) Leaf quality and herbivory responses to soil nutrient addition in secondary tropical dry forests of Yucatan, Mexico. J Trop Ecol 19:525–530CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chapin FS (1980) The mineral nutrition of wild plants. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 11:233–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Conner W, Doyle T, Mason D (2002) Water depth tolerances of dominant tree island species: what do we know? In: Van der Valk F, Sklar F (eds) Tree islands of the Everglades. Kluwer, Netherlands, pp 207–223Google Scholar
  10. Craighead FCS (1971) Trees of South Florida. University of Miami Press, Coral GablesGoogle Scholar
  11. Craighead FCS (1974) Hammocks of South Florida. In: Gleason PJ (ed) Environments of South Florida: past and present, vol memoir 2. Miami Geological Society, Miami, pp 53–60Google Scholar
  12. Davis SM (1994) Phosphorus inputs and vegetation sensitivity in the Everglades. In: Davis SM, Ogden JC (eds) Everglades: the ecosystem and its restoration. St.Lucie, Delray BeachGoogle Scholar
  13. Ewe S, Sternberg L, Busch D (1999) Water-use patterns of woody species in pineland and hammock communities of South Florida. For Ecol Manag 118:139–148CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fensham R, Bowman D (1995) A comparison of foliar nutrient concentrations from trees in monsoon rainforest and savanna in northern Australia. Aust J Ecol 20:335–339CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fisher JL, Veneklaas EJ, Lambers H, Loneragan WA (2006) Enhanced soil and leaf nutrient status of a Western Australian Banksia woodland community invaded by Ehrharta calycina and Pelargonium capitatum. Plant Soil 284:253–264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fiske C, SubbaRao Y (1925) The colorimetric determination of phosphorus. J Biol Chem LXVI:375–401Google Scholar
  17. Furley P, Ratter J (1988) Soil resources and plant communities of the Central Brazilian Cerrado and their development. J Biogeogr 15:97–108CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gann T, Childers D, Rondeau D (2005) Ecosystem structure, nutrient dynamics, and hydrologic relationships in tree islands of the southern Everglades, Florida, USA. For Ecol Manag 214:11–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Graf M, Schwadron M, Stone P, Ross M, Chmura G (2008) An enigmatic carbonate layer in Everglades tree island peats. Eos Trans Am Geophys Union 89:117–124CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Greaver TL, Sternberg L (2006) Linking marine resources to ecotonal shifts of water uptake by terrestrial dune vegetation. Ecology 87:2389–2396CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Gunderson LH (1994) Vegetation of the Everglades: determination of community composition. In: Davis SM, Ogden JC (eds) Everglades: the ecosystem and its restoration. CRC, Boca Raton, pp 323–340Google Scholar
  22. Hanan EJ, Ross MS (2009) Across-scale patterning of plant-soil–water interactions surrounding tree islands in Southern Everglades landscapes. Landsc Ecol. doi: 10.1007/s10980-009-9426-9
  23. Harrington RA, Fownes JH, Vitousek PM (2001) Production and resource use efficiencies in N- and P-limited forests: a comparison of responses to long-term fertilization. Ecosystems 646–657Google Scholar
  24. Heisler L, Towles T, Brandt L, Pace R (2002) Tree Island vegetation and water management in the central Everglades. In: Van der Valk F, Sklar F (eds) Tree islands of the Everglades. Kluwer, Netherlands, pp 283–309Google Scholar
  25. Jones DT, Sah JP, Ross M, Oberbauer SF, Hwang B, Jayachandran K (2006) Responses of twelve tree species common in Everglades tree islands to simulated hydrologic regimes. Wetlands 26:830–844CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kluth C, Bruelheide H (2005) Central and peripheral Hornungia petraea populations: patterns and dynamics. J Ecol 93:584–595CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lin G, Sternberg L (1993) Hydrogen isotopic fractionation by plant roots during water uptake in coastal wetland plants. In: Ehleringer JH, Farquhar AE (eds) Stable isotopes and plant carbon-water relations. Academic Press, New York, pp 497–510Google Scholar
  28. Lodge T (2005) The Everglades handbook: understanding the ecosystem. St.Lucie, FloridaGoogle Scholar
  29. Loveless CM (1959) A study of the vegetation in the Florida Everglades. Ecology 40:1–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lower SS, Kirschenbaum S, Orians CM (2003) Preference and performance of a willow-feeding leaf beetle: soil nutrient and flooding effects on host quality. Oecologia 136:402–411CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. McClain M, Boyer E, Dent L, Gergel S, Grimm N, Groffman P, Hart S, Harvey J, Johnston C, Mayorga E, McDowell W, Pinay G (2003) Biogeochemical hot spots and hot moments at the interface of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Ecosystems 6:301–312CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Miao SL, Sklar FS (1998) Biomass and nutrient allocation of sawgrass and cattail along a nutrient gradient in the Florida Everglades. Wetlands Ecol Manag 5:245–263CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Noe GB, Childers D, Jones R (2001) Phosphorus biogeochemistry and the impact of phosphorus enrichment: why is the Everglades so unique? Ecosystems 4:603–624CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Olmsted I, Armentano T (1997) Vegetation of Shark River Slough, Everglades National Park. National Park Service SFNRC technical report 97-001, South Florida Natural Resource Center, Homestead, FLGoogle Scholar
  35. Olmsted I, Dunevitz H, Platt WJ (1993) Effects of freezes on tropical trees in Everglades National Park Florida, USA. Tropical Ecol 34(1):17–34Google Scholar
  36. Reddy KR, DeLaune RD (2008) Biogeochemistry of wetlands—science and applications. CRC Press, Boca RatonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Richardson CJ, Ferrell GM, Vaithiyanathan P (1999) Nutrient effects on stand structure, resorption efficiency and secondary compounds in everglades sawgrass. Ecology 80:2182–2192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Rodriguez-Iturbe I, Porporato A, Laio F, Ridolfi L (2001) Plants in water-controlled ecosystems: active role in hydrologic processes and response to water stress I. Scope and general outline. Adv Water Resour 24:695–705CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Ross M, Mitchell-Bruker S, Sah J, Stothoff S, Ruiz P, Reed D, Jayachandran K, Coultas C (2006) Interaction of hydrology and nutrient limitation in the ridge and slough landscape of the southern Everglades. Hydrobiologia 37–59Google Scholar
  40. Ross M, Shamblin B, Sah JP, Oberbauer SF, Gomez D, Sternberg L, Saha A, Wang X (2008) CERP 2008 report on tree island structure and function. Florida International University, Miami, FLGoogle Scholar
  41. Saha S, Strazisar TM, Menges EM, Ellsworth PZ, Sternberg LS (2008) Linking the patterns in soil moisture to leaf water potential, stomatal conductance, growth, and mortality of dominant shrubs in the Florida scrub ecosystem. Plant Soil 313:113–127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Saha AK, Sternberg LS, Miralles-Wilhelm F (2009) Linking water sources with foliar nutrient status in upland plant communities in the Everglades National Park, USA. Ecohydrology 2(1):42–54CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Santiago L, Schuur E, Silvera K (2005) Nutrient cycling and plant–soil feedbacks along a precipitation gradient in lowland Panama. J Trop Ecol 21:461–470CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Sklar F (2002) Tree Island ecosystems of the Everglades—an overview. In: Van der Valk F, Sklar F (eds) Tree islands of the Everglades. Kluwer, The Netherlands, pp 19–69Google Scholar
  45. Sklar F, McVoy C, VanZee R, Gawlik D, Tarboton K, Rudnick D, Miao S (2001) The effects of altered hydrology on the ecology of the Everglades. In: Porter J, Porter K (eds) The Everglades, Florida Bay and Coral Reefs of the Florida Keys. CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp 39–82Google Scholar
  46. Smith SM, Leeds JA, McCormick PV, Garrett B, Darwish M (2009) Sawgrass (Cladium jamaicense) responses as early indicators of low-level phosphorus enrichment in the Florida Everglades. Wetlands Ecol Manag 17:291–302CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Sternberg L, Swart P (1987) Utilization of freshwater and ocean water by coastal plants of Southern Florida. Ecology 68:1898–1905CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Sternberg L, Ish-Shalom-Gordon N, Ross M, O’Brien J (1991) Water relations of coastal plant communities near the ocean/freshwater boundary. Oecologia 88:305–310CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Tilman D (1999) The ecological consequences of loss of biodiversity: a search for general principles. Ecology 80:1455–1474Google Scholar
  50. Tomlinson P (1980) The biology of trees native to tropical Florida. Harvard Forest, PetershamGoogle Scholar
  51. Vendramini PF, Sternberg LSL (2007) A faster method for plant stem-water extraction. Rapid Commun Mass Spectrosc 164–168Google Scholar
  52. Wetzel P (2002) Tree island ecosystems of the world. In: Van der Valk F, Sklar F (eds) Tree islands of the Everglades. Kluwer, The Netherlands, pp 19–69Google Scholar
  53. Wetzel PR, van der Valk AG, Newman S, Gawlik D, Gann TT, Coronado-Molina CA, Childers DL, Sklar FH (2005) Maintaining tree islands in the Florida Everglades: nutrient redistribution is the key. Front Ecol Environ 3:370–376CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Wilcox WM, Solo-Gabriele HM, Sternberg LO (2004) Use of stable isotopes to quantify flows between the Everglades and urban areas in Miami-Dade County Florida. J Hydrol 293:1–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Willard DA, Bernhardt CE, Holmes CW, Landacre B, Marot M (2006) Response of Everglades trees to environmental change. Ecol Monogr 76:565–583CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amartya K. Saha
    • 1
  • Leonel da Silveira O’Reilly Sternberg
    • 1
  • Michael S. Ross
    • 2
  • Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of MiamiCoral GablesUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biological SciencesFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA
  3. 3.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA

Personalised recommendations