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How vegetation and sediment transport feedbacks drive landscape change in the everglades and wetlands worldwide.

The American naturalist

Wetlands, Water Movements, Plant Physiological Phenomena, Models, Theoretical, Geologic Sediments, Florida, Computer Simulation

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      Abstract

      Mechanisms reported to promote landscape self-organization cannot explain vegetation patterning oriented parallel to flow. Recent catastrophic shifts in Everglades landscape pattern and ecological function highlight the need to understand the feedbacks governing these ecosystems. We modeled feedback between vegetation, hydrology, and sediment transport on the basis of a decade of experimentation. Results from more than 100 simulations showed that flows just sufficient to redistribute sediment from sparsely vegetated sloughs to dense ridges were needed for an equilibrium patterned landscape oriented parallel to flow. Surprisingly, although vegetation heterogeneity typically conveys resilience, in wetlands governed by flow/sediment feedbacks it indicates metastability, whereby the landscape is prone to catastrophic shifts. Substantial increases or decreases in flow relative to the equilibrium condition caused an expansion of emergent vegetation and loss of open-water areas that was unlikely to revert upon restoration of the equilibrium hydrology. Understanding these feedbacks is critical in forecasting wetland responses to changing conditions and designing management strategies that optimize ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration or habitat provision. Our model and new sensitivity analysis techniques address these issues and make it newly apparent that simply returning flow to predrainage conditions in the Everglades may not be sufficient to restore historic landscape patterns and processes.

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      Journal
      10.1086/655215
      20635883

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