The Landscapes of the Everglades: Touring the Terrain
Everglades National Park is the largest remaining subtropical wilderness in the United States. This 1.5-million-acre system originates near Lake Kissimmee and continues through Lake Okeechobee, all the way throughout South Florida down to Florida Bay. Everglades National Park, with its massive span, is comprised of thousands of different lakes, aquifers, marshes, sawgrass prairies, and swamps. The varying landscapes of the Everglades make up a set of finely balanced ecosystems that support a vast amount of plants and wildlife in Florida.
What kind of ecosystems exist within Everglades National Park?
Amongst the large diversity of habitats, the Everglades supports a variety of ecosystems that sustain life. Here are a few:
A habitat of dense canopies that exists on slightly higher elevations, these small tree islands are usually found in-between other ecosystems. These moisture-laden hammocks support the growth of oak, red maple, and mahogany, which make a beautiful sight during Everglades airboat tours/p>
Pinelands occur on flat, sandy terrain in exposed limestone. They include pine forests, pine rock lands, and sand hills. The health of pinelands depends on fires to clear them out and assist in regeneration and revegetation, so a fire in the Everglades may seem disastrous, but it can be really beneficial for new vegetation and growth sometimes.
Easily recognizable in South Florida as a massive tangle of roots, mangroves serve a very important purpose of providing shelter and protection for both marine and land animals in the Florida Everglades. Mangrove trees are salt tolerant and are typically described to “thrive amidst the harsh growing conditions of the coast”, meaning they can obtain freshwater from saltwater to stay alive. Everglades National Park is home to the largest area of protected mangroves in the Northern Hemisphere. Of all of the landscapes of the Everglades, Mangroves are well known for protecting wildlife - fish, shellfish and crustaceans. The roots and branches also serve as home to birds and other animals. During an Everglades airboat tour, tour guides are likely to point out the mangroves while spotting wetland animals in their natural habitat.
Located inland, coastal lowlands are well drained regions home to shrubby salt tolerant vegetation and low growing desert-like plants that can withstand harsh growing conditions.
Freshwater sloughs are low-lying areas that channel water throughout the Everglades. With their leisurely currents, freshwater sloughs act as main avenues of water flow throughout the landscapes of the Everglades. Everglades National Park contains two very distinct sloughs: Shark River Slough and Taylor Slough, which both discharge into the Florida Bay. Sloughs can run deep and provide homes for larger fish.
Freshwater Marl Prairie:
Sloughs are bordered by large areas of freshwater called Prairie Marls. This ecosystem consists of low-growing vegetation and a complex mixture of algae, bacteria and microbes. Fish and invertebrates thrive on the food source provided by these freshwater marl prairies.
An extremely flood tolerant ecosystem in the Everglades, Cypress trees typically grow in dome shapes, with the taller trees on the inside and smaller trees on the outside.
Of the landscapes of the Everglades, Florida Bay is the largest body of water. It consists of 800-square miles of marine submerged vegetation, coral and sponges. Seagrass and algae feed the marine life, which in turn support and sustain the rest of the Everglades food chain. Needless to say, the health of this environment is critical to the health of the others. Each one of these habitats and landscapes of the Everglades are connected to each other to support and sustain life in the Everglades. Variations in the habitat such as water depth, salinity, or elevation can have drastic effects on another. The only way to witness all of the landscapes of the Everglades is by airboat tours that safely glide over the wetlands and do not disturb the delicate terrain.