Coastal Wetland Geomorphic and Vegetative Change: Effects of Sea-Level Rise and Water Management on Brackish Marshes
Conservation and management of coastal ecosystems require an understanding of how accelerated sea-level rise (SLR) and altered hydrology impact community shifts over time. This study evaluates the response of tidal wetlands of the Ten Thousand Islands, Collier County, Florida, to SLR and water management, with a focus on the development and distribution of tidal ponds across a wetland landscape. Sediment cores collected from marshes, mangroves, and tidal ponds reveal a clear transgressive stratigraphy. Facies analyses demonstrate that ponds originate from the surface downward through the degradation of marsh peat. Analyses of 1953 and 2009 aerial imagery using ArcGIS® software clearly identified tidal pond initiation, growth, and merger over time. Wetlands west of the Faka Union Canal, which have limited freshwater sheet flow due to canalization, are experiencing a greater increase in pond count, pond density (p = 0.0038), and mean pond area (p < 0.0001). Qualitative observations also recognize a relatively larger influence of mangrove envelopment over time in western sites compared with those retaining near-natural flows. Future land management plans must account for the expected submergence of inland marsh ecosystems driven by SLR and accelerated by hydrologic alteration. Continued restoration of freshwater sheet flow is necessary for slowing the regional transition (and loss) of graminoid marshes to either mangrove or pond environments. Without such action, a complete loss of these biologically diverse marsh ecosystems as mangrove forests encroach and marsh surfaces submerge is probable in the short term.
KeywordsSea-level rise Water management Marsh Mangrove Tidal pond
Sincere thanks go to the faculty, staff, and students of Florida Gulf Coast University and the Coastal Watershed Institute for providing tools and support for GIS, field, and lab analyses. We also appreciate the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) for securing helicopter use for sampling, and both the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge (TTINWR) and Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park for allowing access to their properties for fieldwork. Then, too, we recognize the Ten Thousand Islands Iron Rangers and Florida Gulf Coast University's College of Arts and Sciences for providing monies to cover publication costs. Gratitude especially goes to the following individuals: Ranger Larry Richardson of the TTINWR, U.S. Geological Survey Wetland and Aquatic Research Center staff Ken Krauss, Rebecca Howard, and Andy From, Mike Barry of Regional Conservation, GIS Specialist Jill Schmid of the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, and Tim Howard and Ananta Nath of SFWMD. The insight and input offered from each was indispensable in the completion of this research.
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