Graduation Year

2016

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Biology (Integrative Biology)

Major Professor

Thomas Crisman, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jason Rohr, Ph.D.

Committee Member

David Lewis, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Mark Rains, Ph.D.

Keywords

Cypress, Ground water extraction, Hydrology, Vegetation

Abstract

The increasing demand for and limited supply of fresh water necessitates an understanding of how human actions affect aquatic ecosystems. Anthropogenic impacts to these ecosystems occur in many forms including eutrophication, invasive species removals, and hydrologic alterations. Ground water extraction is one such action that can dramatically impact wetland hydrology and is increasing in occurrence globally as clean surface water resources are exhausted. Despite the importance of ground water extraction to meet human demand, little information is available concerning the response of vegetation communities to chronic ground water extraction. Over extraction is known to result in reduced water levels and duration, resulting in a shift towards more upland tolerant species; however, detailed information concerning the response of the individual species comprising these communities and how wetlands shift along with pumping regime remains unavailable. The following dissertation combines historical hydrology and ground cover vegetation data with recent monitoring to describe how ground cover (herbaceous species) and canopy (tree species) vegetation respond to fluctuations in hydrology and ground water extraction.

Ground cover communities were extremely diverse with a total of 103 species being sampled in the historical ground cover vegetation dataset. Juncus repens was the most widely distributed species and was observed in 36% of all samples. The 29 species most widely observed in the ground cover strata (<1 m height) displayed relatively narrow ranges of preferred water depth and duration with Amphicarpum muhlenbergianum being found in the driest areas and Pontederia cordata and Ludwigia repens the wettest. In general species found in shallower water depths also tended to be found in locations with shorter hydroperiods, although woody species tended to found in areas with relatively shallow water depths with extended hydroperiod. Ground cover vegetation is extremely useful as an indicator of recent hydrology, although the hydrologic preference of the species in the current study does not reflect the assumed ecology of the species utilized by Florida Administrative Code 62-340.450. Additional research to validate and improve the accuracy of this classification system is required.

When ground water extraction volumes in well fields was significantly reduced, ground cover communities were responsive, as was indicated by Permanova results (Before After Control Impact). All ground cover at wetlands located within well fields became more indicative of wetter conditions while control wetlands responding only to climate and weather all became drier. In contrast, several well fields displayed reductions in water levels and hydroperiod following extraction reductions. The shift in ground cover community indicates that ground water extraction has not produced an alternative stable state and restoration of these ecosystems is possible through alterations in ground water extraction volumes alone.

As ground water extraction volumes were increased, tree communities responded by displaying increased occurrance of non-Taxodium sp. trees, mortality of wetland tree species, and light availability. All wetlands remained dominated by mature Taxodium sp. regardless of the amount of ground water impact indicating that each wetland has not yet shifted into a new community type as a result of non-Taxodium tree encroachment; however, recruitment and mortality patterns of both Taxodium and non-Taxodium species indicate this may occur in the future. Changes in light availability at the wetland floor associated with tree species is likely providing an additional feedback mechanism on ground cover communities.

Results from this dissertation indicate that vegetation communities are extremely responsive to changes in hydrology and have shown significant changes associated with ground water extraction. These changes may not be permanent; however, and alterations in extraction volumes and timing can provide changes in vegetation communities even after decades. Routine long term monitoring should be conducted, in addition to critical assessments of current extraction volumes, to assess the current status of vegetation ecosystems and allow for individuals to best manage aquatic resources for all uses.

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