Estimating ecological thresholds for phosphorus in the Everglades.
The Florida Everglades, a wetland of international importance, has been undergoing a significant shift in its native flora and fauna due to excessive total phosphorus (TP) loadings (an average of 147 t per annum from 1995to 2004) and an elevated mean TP concentration (69 microg L(-1) of TP in 2004) from agricultural runoff and Lake Okeechobee outflow despite the use of 16000 ha of stormwater treatment areas. Here, we present a Bayesian changepoint analysis of long-term experimental research and show that exceeding a surface water geometric mean TP threshold concentration of 15 microg L(-1) causes an ecological imbalance in algal, macrophyte, and macroinvertebrate assemblages as well as slough community structure. A phosphorus threshold for all trophic levels may be more realistic and protective when presented as a threshold zone (12-15 microg L(-1)) because estimates of uncertainty must be utilized to accurately define TP thresholds, which change with seasons and water depths. Most interior areas of the Everglades are currently at or below this threshold zone, but the exterior areas near inflow structures (except for the Everglades National Park) are presently receiving double or triple the proposed threshold. Our Bayesian approach, used hereto address ecological imbalance along nutrient gradients, is applicable to determining thresholds and stable states in other aquatic ecosystems.
Richardson, CJ; King, RS; Qian, SS; Vaithiyanathan, P; Qualls, RG; Stow, CA
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