Salt marshes of the Indian River Lagoon, Florida (USA) were once prolific producers of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes lay their eggs on the infrequently-flooded high marsh surface when the soil surface is exposed. The eggs hatch when the high marsh is flooded by the infrequent high tides or summer rains. To control mosquito production, most of the salt marshes (over 16.200 ha) were impounded by the early 1970s. Flooding, usually by pumping water from the Lagoon, effectively controlled mosquitoes.
However, impounding had a profoundly negative impact on the wetland plant, fish, and invertebrate communities. Isolation from the Lagoon cut off aquatic access by transient estuarine species that used the wetlands for feeding or as nursery area. In one study, the number of fish species dropped from 16 to 5 after impounding. Wetland vegetation within some impoundments was totally eliminated; other impoundments developed into freshwater systems.
When tidal exchange is restored through hydrologic connection, usually by culverts installed through the perimeter dike, recovery to more natural conditions is often rapid. In one impoundment where wetland vegetation was totally eliminated, recovery of salt-tolerant plants began almost immediately. In another, cover of salt-tolerant plants increased 1,056% in less than 3 years. Fisheries species that benefitted the most were snook, ladyfish, and striped mullet. Over 1,500 juvenile snook were captured in a single 3-hr flood-tide culvert trap as they attempted to migrate into an impoundment. The zooplankton community rapidly returned to the more typical marsh-Lagoon community. Water quality and sediment sulfides returned to typical marsh values. Overall, reconnection enhances natural productivity and diversity, although water quality in the perimeter ditch, an artifact of dike construction, remains problematic.
Earlier experiments demonstrated that flooding only during the summer mosquito breeding season provided as effective mosquito control as year-round flooding. In standard management, the impoundment is flooded in summer, then left open to the Lagoon through culverts the rest of the year. Culverts are typically opened when the fall sea level rise first floods the high marsh.
Impoundment reconnection is being implemented by a multi-agency partnership. The total reconnected area is expected to reach 9,454 ha by the end of 1998, representing 60% of the impounded wetlands in the entire IRL system. One stumbling block is private ownership of many of the remaining isolated impoundments.
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University of Florida, IFAS, Journal Series No. R-05201.
Harbor Branch Contribution Number 1152.
Corresponding editor: R.E. Turner
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Brockmeyer, R.E., Rey, J.R., Virnstein, R.W. et al. Rehabilitation of impounded estuarine wetlands by hydrologic reconnection to the Indian River Lagoon, Florida (USA). Wetlands Ecol Manage 4, 93–109 (1996). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01876231