The Everglades ecosystem in southern Florida occupies a 9300 km2 basin that extends from the southern shore of Lake Okeechobee south and southwest to the Gulf of Mexico (Hoffman et al., 1990). Currently, the basin can be divided into three sections: Everglades agricultural area, water conservation areas, and the southern Everglades, the latter of which includes the marshes south of Tamiami Trail and the Shark River Slough. There are two distinct communities in the graminoid system that are differentiated according to short and long hydroperiod areas (Lodge, 1994) and occur in areal ratio of approximately 3:1. Short hydroperiod areas flank both sides of the southern Everglades, and are occupied by a low sawgrass community of plants with a high diversity (100 species) (Lodge, 1994). Typically, vegetation in the short hydroperiod marsh is less than 1 m tall (Herndorn and Taylor, 1986). Long hydroperiod, deeper marsh communities are developed over peat soil (Goodrick, 1984). The long hydroperiod community occurs more commonly in the central Everglades where they typically are straddled between sawgrass marshes and sloughs. These inundated areas are important for fish and aquatic invertebrates, such as prawns. Long hydroperiod areas provide an abundant reserve of prey for wading birds toward the end of the dry season (March-April).
The freshwater marshes of the Everglades are relatively oligotrophic and have been typified as not being very productive—averaging only about 150gm"2 per year in wet prairie areas according to DeAngelis et al. (1998). Graminoid ecosystems provide valuable habitat for a wide range of animals, including species listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as endangered, threatened, or of concern.
The cypress system is a 295,000 ha wetlands of the Big Cypress Natural Preserve and the adjacent Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve. Both areas cover a flat, gently sloping limestone plain (Bondavalli and Ulanowicz, 1999) with many strands and domes of cypress trees. The cypress swamp does not have a distinct fauna, but shares many species with the adjacent communities (Bondavalli and Ulanowicz, 1999).
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