Alligators create disturbance patches within the Everglades, but little is known about spatial and temporal variation in alligator holes throughout this ecosystem. Forty-eight alligator holes in Water Conservation Area 3 of the central Everglades were sampled to assess variation in morphology and vegetation and to identify landscape- and habitat-level features that correlate to alligator-hole variation. Field observations and plant community ordination suggested three distinct categories of alligator holes: holes containing shrub/tree species (shrub holes), holes surrounded by marsh (marsh holes), and holes dominated by cattails (cattail holes). Shrub holes were the most species-rich and diverse of the three types. All alligator holes except for cattail holes contained a greater richness of vascular plants than the surrounding marsh. Cattail holes were deeper than shrub or marsh holes, and all holes were deeper than surrounding marsh. Major landscape features that may influence structure of alligator holes seem to be distance from canals and surrounding marsh vegetation matrix. Alligator holes increase spatial heterogeneity, influence plant community composition and structure, and increase biological diversity. Restoration and management plans for the Everglades ecosystem should ensure that this landscape feature is perpetuated.
Key WordsEverglades alligators alligator holes plant communities biological diversity ecosystem engineer
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