Evaluating the functional response of isolated cypress domes to groundwater alteration in west-central Florida
Type of DegreeMaster's Thesis
Forestry and Wildlife Science
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The hydrology of a wetland is the single most important determinant of its function and slight alterations can lead to significant changes in plant communities and biogeochemistry within the wetland. Therefore, understanding the influence of hydrology on vegetative and soil processes is pivotal to restoration efforts. This study investigated how hydrologic alteration and recovery influenced wetland vegetation and soil processes in Starkey Wilderness Park (SWP), a well-field in west-central Florida. Vegetation responses to groundwater alterations were observed using long term species and hydrologic data collected from SWP. The results from the vegetation study suggest that hydrologic recovery has restored vegetative functions and measures, such as species richness and hydrophytic assemblages, in a relatively short (5-7 year) period. However, differences in species composition and community variation persist in wetlands of various degrees of hydrologic alterations. A field study was also conducted to determine how hydrologic alterations continue to affect wetland decomposition rates and other soil processes. After eight years of hydrologic recovery, altered wetlands experienced faster decomposition than reference wetlands and rates seemed to be linked to differences in both inundation and percent soil organic matter. The findings from this study suggest functional restoration of vegetation and soils should be determined on an individual wetland basis and over longer periods (>5 years). In some cases, overall restoration goals may need to be reassessed as ecosystem development progresses.