Florida spiderlily and skyflower are some of the wildflowers found blooming in freshwater marshes (Photo by Missy Juntunen).
Habitats provide the food, water, shelter and space animals need to thrive and reproduce. At Everglades WMA, natural communities such as sawgrass marsh, wet prairies/sloughs and tree islands provide habitat for fish and wildlife found here.
Though the Everglades appear flat, there are subtle differences in elevation. These differences, in combination with variations in underlying rock and natural fire regimes, create a diversity of natural communities within the Everglades ecosystem.
In geologic terms, the Everglades is young, only having formed within the last 5000 years. Rich black soil began forming and accumulating wherever sawgrass became the dominant vegetation. The black color is a product of the charcoal created by frequent lightning-caused fires.
Before restoration, nonnative Brazilian pepper had invaded this tree island.
After the removal of invasive plants, cabbage palms and other native plants thrive.
The natural functioning of the Everglades’ habitats has been affected by agriculture, changes in water flow and water quality, and the spread of invasive plants and animals. Biologists use many different methods to help restore the ecosystem. Each habitat within the WMA receives a unique management prescription. Prescribed fire is the most economical and effective tool for protecting the tree islands and surrounding marshes from catastrophic wildfires and for maintaining the function and wildlife habitat value of the marshes and wet prairie.
Tree islands comprise only a small portion of the management area, but their restoration is essential to the health of the Everglades ecosystem. In the past, droughts and catastrophic wildfires burned native vegetation, allowing invasive, nonnative plants to become established. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is restoring many of these damaged tree islands by using prescribed burning around the tree islands, thereby minimizing wildfire damage. The tree islands are also surveyed and treated for invasive vegetation and then planted with native plants. Restored tree islands are better able to support wildlife.
The FWC also provides the Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District with ecological recommendations to protect tree islands from excessive floods and droughts and to maintain a mosaic of habitats that meet wildlife needs while providing water supply benefits to south Florida.
In addition to the management work described here, biologists with the FWC rely on a wide range of techniques to ensure that natural areas throughout the state stay healthy for wildlife and inviting to visitors.