Nature & Science
Everglades National Park protects only the southern one-fifth of the historic Everglades ecosystem. In its entirety, this massive watershed boasts a multitude of habitats that provide a subtropical refuge to a unique assemblage of wildlife. With the passage of time and the growth of human population centers in south Florida, the park serves a new role: serving as a touchstone against which to gauge the impacts of man on the natural world. Ongoing science and research are critical for better understanding, and managing, the resources entrusted to the National Park Service for care and protection.
NPS photo by Rodney Cammauf
Unlike early national parks established to protect majestic scenery, Everglades National Park was established to preserve a portion of the vast Everglades ecosystem as wildlife habitat. The park is home to a vast array of animals that have adapted to a subtropical environment in which temperate climatic conditions, characteristic of latitudes to the north, merge with tropical Caribbean conditions. The winter dry season, which lasts from December to April, is the best time for wildlife viewing in the park. Weather conditions are generally pleasant during the winter and standing water levels are low, causing wildlife to congregate at central water locations. Shark Valley, the Anhinga Trail at Royal Palm, and Eco Pond in the Flamingo area are popular areas for viewing alligators, wading birds, and other wildlife. Boaters have additional access to wildlife viewing opportunities in Florida Bay and along the Gulf Coast.
Do not feed wildlife for their safety as well as yours, and give wildlife plenty of space to avoid stressing the animals. Armchair travelers can visit the park through the Anhinga Trail webcam, which overlooks one of the most popular visitor areas in the park.
NPS photo by Lori Oberhofer
Everglades National Park serves as important habitat for numerous endemic and legally protected plant species. As with animal life, the plant life of the Everglades is largely determined by the subtropical merge of temperate North American and tropical Caribbean climatic conditions. Another major factor that controls the distribution of vegetation within the Everglades is the hydrologic pattern, which is defined by the depth, timing, and duration of inundation as well as the quality and salinity of the source water. The flat topography, temporal distribution of rainfall, and proximity to the coast all interact to determine the hydrologic regime over the region. Surficial geology and overlying soil type also influence plant species composition and abundance. Disturbances, both natural (including fire, freezes, hurricanes, etc.) and anthropogenic perturbation (such as altered fire regimes, drainage, development, and introduction of exotic pest plants) also impact vegetation patterns.
The Everglades comprise a vast, interconnected mosaic of distinct ecosystems. These diverse habitats are in a state of constant change, subject to the influences of a full suite of environmental processes. Geology, hydrology, air quality, water quality, fire regime, weather, and climate are but a few of the many natural factors that help shape the development of landscapes in the Everglades. The actions of humans also have a strong influence. The introduction of nonnative species, disruptive water-management activities, the disturbance of natural processes, climate change, and air, water, light, and noise pollution have all worked to undermine the integrity of the historic ecosystem.
The mosaic of habitats contained within the Greater Everglades supports an assemblage of plant and animal species not found elsewhere on planet Earth. Although nine distinct habitats have been identified in the park, they transition into one another and the landscape remains dynamic. Ecosystems remain in a constant state of flux, subject to the natural elements of south Florida and to human pressures. The nine identified habitats include hardwood hammock, pineland, mangrove, coastal lowlands, freshwater slough, freshwater marl prairie, cypress, marine, and estuarine. Check the schedule of Ranger-Led Programs to learn more about specific ecosystems.
Like other national parks, Everglades National Park serves as an ideal outdoor laboratory for a variety of scientific research activity. National Park Service managers need accurate information about the resources in their care in order to make responsible decisions about how they are managed. The South Florida Natural Resources Center (SFNRC) conducts research that informs the management of the south Florida national park units. The work of the SFNRC spans a variety of scientific disciplines and addresses issues pertaining to wildlife management, hydrology, water quality, restoration, and invasive plants and animals. Other investigations involve scientific collaboration and cooperation through partnerships with universities, non-governmental organizations, other federal, state, and local government agencies, and stakeholders. Everglades National Park also is one of seven parks encompassed by the South Florida / Caribbean Network, one of the 32 geographic networks that make up the National Park Service Inventory and Monitoring Program, which was launched in 1998 to build a stronger scientific foundation for the management and protection of natural resources across the country.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness comprises nearly 1.3 million acres of Everglades National Park and offers unparalleled opportunities for viewing wildlife, embarking on a rugged adventure, marveling at dark skies, or simply enjoying quiet solitude in a vast expanse of land and sea. Time spent in wilderness offers important recreational, cultural, emotional, and spiritual experiences.The wilderness also serves as a vital recharge area for south Florida's drinking-water supply, an important line of defense against the devastating winds of tropical storms and hurricanes, and an indispensable nursery ground for marine species of recreational and commercial importance. The many benefits we enjoy today are a result of the foresight of those in the past who realized the need to preserve such areas. To afford future generations the same opportunities we currently enjoy, we have an obligation to preserve the health and integrity of wilderness areas.
Did You Know?
Everglades National Park protects the largest wilderness area east of the Mississippi River. The wilderness area is named for Marjory Stoneman Douglas who was instrumental in creating the park, and who coined the phrase "River of Grass."