Everglades National Park is home to diverse and dynamic habitats. Small changes in elevation influence the difference between dry and wet habitats. Explore the Everglades 'Mountains' and 'Valleys' from a fresh perspective with expert guides along the way.
This kid-friendly video series features seven main habitats within Everglades National Park.
Curriclum lesson plans are at the bottom of this page.
Click here to watch this video series on the Everglades National Park YouTube channel.
Sooo, this is Everglades National Park. Everything looks so green, and beautiful, and diverse. I just wish I knew what it all meant. Visitor Center! Well, I guess I will start there. Hello. Ranger Amber: Good morning. And, welcome to Everglades National Park. Thank you. I just moved to south Florida for a new job. And, I want to get my feet wet and really understand what the Everglades is all about. Well, if you really want to understand the Everglades, you need to get your feet not only wet, but dry as well. I recommend that you start by exploring the mountains and valleys of the habitats that make up this Everglades ecosystem. Mountains and valleys?! But, everything looks so flat. And, what do you mean by habitat? A habitat is a home. It is a place where a plant or animal lives and gets everything it needs to survive. Every habitat has a different: Elevation. Water level. Plants. Animals. And natural disturbances. Ooohhhh, I see. So, there are a variety of habitats, or homes, in the Everglades. Wow. Where can I start!? Well, most park rangers have a favorite habitat. Why don't I give them a call to let them know you are coming out to visit today. I recommend that you start in the Everglades mountain habitat: The tropical hardwood hammock. And, here is a map to get you started. Oh, that sounds great. Thank you.
Hi. Hi. Welcome to one of the highest habitats in the Everglades, the Hardwood Hammock. We are standing on a limestone ridge known as the Miami Rock Ridge or the Atlantic Coastal Ridge. That is a mountain for the flat landscape of south Florida. The hardwood hammock is one of the few places that stays dry year-round. A hardwood hammock is like an island of emerald forest that pops up around the Everglades. Each hammock is unique. They come in different sizes and they have different combinations of plants. Hardwood refers to the broad leaf trees. It is also called tropical because most hammock plants in Everglades National Park are from the tropics. So, there you have it, a Tropical Hardwood Hammock. But, why is it called a hammock!? Oh, right. Hammock is an old word that means high ground. Small family groups of first Calusa Indians and later Seminoles and Miccosukee Indians camped in the hammocks throughout the Everglades. They even planted crops in there. Lets go and check it out. OK! A thick wall of tangled vegetation fringes the hammock because it gets so much sun on the outside. Lucky for us that a few hammocks are bisected with trails. The trail is over here. So, what do you think now that we are inside? It is a lot cooler in here from all the shade. There is so much canopy cover here. Ohhh, look at the airplants. The hammock can be a few degrees cooler during the hot summer. Look up and you can see why. Mature hammocks have big, tall trees that form a closed canopy overhead. The canopy is like a sunshade that reduces the amount of sunlight inside the hammock. If you look down, you will see the limestone floor has quite a few solution holes. The ground water in those deeper holes really turns up the humidity in here. Remember that impenetrable wall on the outside? Ah, ha. I remember. That wall is like a wind deflector. Winds would dry everything out including the soil. So, you are saying that the hammocks have wind protection from the edge, sun protection from the canopy, and high humidity from groundwater. Right, and all that adds up to a very moist and humid hammock. The ground is so spongy here. This spongy organic soil above the limestone creates these big trees. Ferns, mosses, bromeliads and orchids all thrive in this moist environment. What creates all the solution holes? Those big holes are the result of the tropical storms and hurricanes that happen every summer wet season in the Everglades. Fierce winds can rip out tall canopy trees whose shallow roots are entangled with the limestone rock. It is like ripping out root cables from the ground which also takes out chunks of limestone. Natural weathering from water and chemical erosion is also slowly dissolving away the softer limestone. This hole will have water during the wet season creating a home for small fish, crayfish, and invertebrates. These moist hammock islands are also a fire sensitive habitat which means they do not like fire. But, hammocks are embedded in fire dependent habitats like prairies and pinelands. Fire generally stops at the hammock edge because of the moist, shady conditions inside. Fire burns hammocks only under very rare, extremely dry conditions. Fire can cook the hammock tree roots and burn that rich soil. You will learn more about fire later. There are so many cool-looking plants but the ground looks pretty open inside the hammock. Good observation. The ground underneath the understory is very sparse due to the lack of sunlight. Here is a Gumbo Limbo. Look underneath the red bark and what do you see? That green bark has chlorophyll to carry out photosynthesis just like a leaf! And here is the Lysiloma tree. Feel its smooth bark. Oh yeah, it is really smooth. Ohhhh, is that a snail?! Ahh, you found the Florida Tree Snail. Right now, it is tucked inside its shell and glued to the tree. This is how they conserve moisture during the dry season. Soon, when the wet season comes around, the tree snails will become active and start grazing on tiny lichens that grow on the hammock trees. That reminds me of the Strangler Fig. The Strangler Fig begins life as a small seedling growing on a tree branch or crown. The seedling’s roots grow downward and envelop the host tree. At the same time, the seedling grows upward to reach the canopy layer. What happens to the host tree? Sometimes it lives, but other times, it dies leaving just a hollow memory. That is pretty cool. Who lives here besides tree snails and solution hole critters? Tropical hardwood hammocks provide great cover for animals to avoid the intense heat of summer, wicked summer storms, fires and occasional winter freezes. Most of the tropical plants provide fruits for birds to eat who also disperse the seeds. During spring and fall migration, migrating birds stopover in the hammock to rest and refuel during their long journey. The hammock dayshift might include: Lizards, snakes, and butterflies, like the Zebra Longwing. The night shift might include: Barred Owls, small rodents, bats, and even the endangered Florida Panther. This hardwood hammock at Royal Palm is part of the reason that Everglades National Park was formed. Early explorers were attracted and awed by the unique tropical nature and plant diversity of the hardwood hammock. They rallied to create Royal Palm State Park in 1916. This early conservation effort led up to the establishment of Everglades National Park in 1947. Wow, this is a fascinating mix of plants, animals, and people all coming together. Well, you will see more hammock trees in the next habitat, but they will be a lot smaller. Hmmmmm. You’ve got lots to learn, good luck. Thank you for showing me around the hardwood hammock. It was my pleasure. Bye.
Heyyyy! Helloooo. Hey, come on over. But, watch your step. There are solution holes everywhere! During the wet season, rainwater washes quickly through the limestone into the aquifer below the Everglades. All that exposed limestone rock underneath your feet is the Miami Rock Ridge. Pine rocklands are high in elevation like the hardwood hammock you just left. What do you think of the soil? What soil? Exactly. There is hardly any soil here. Pine rocklands are unique. Of all the Everglades habitats, the highest plant diversity is found here. I only see one kind of tree. Look down! Oh yeah. The understory has a rich diversity of palms, ferns, grasses, herbs, and shrubs. Many of them are threatened or endangered and occur nowhere else in the world. Hi! Hey! Welcome to the most endangered habitat in the Everglades. Only two percent is left. It is almost all gone. We are standing on the biggest remnant left. It is protected by Everglades National Park. I have never heard of an endangered habitat before!? But, what happened to the pine rocklands outside the park? The pine rocklands are high and dry on a limestone ridge, right. Well, high and dry is also an ideal home for humans in a swampy South Florida. Most of the pine rocklands were rock plowed and converted into farm fields and the city of Miami. Look around Miami and you will see small remnants of the pine rocklands. Pine rocklands occur only in South Florida and nowhere else in the US. So, what is your first impression of this endangered habitat? It is kind of difficult walking out here. You can really tell it is the dry season. Mmmm, some of the tropical flowers here smell really good. It is really pretty out here. Cool. Hey, I got something that I want to show you over here. Follow me. Ahh! Ahh, I see it. She is really tiny. That is one of the smallest nuthatches in the world. Can you see her tiny little bill? Yeah. She can use that to pound open pine cones to get the seeds. That is the Red-bellied Woodpecker. So, there are two birds nesting in that tree!? A snag is like an apartment building in the pine rocklands. Each cavity hole in the snag is like a window in an apartment. And each apartment is unique. Some are bigger than others. Some even interconnect with multiple rooms. Apartments might be rented out by Brown-headed Nuthatches, Eastern Bluebirds, woodpeckers, snakes, small mammals like bats, and really anything else that does not dwell on the ground. All cavities provide shelter during storms and intense heat. They provide warmth during occasional winter freezes. They provide food like beetle larvae for woodpeckers. All day long, these apartment buildings provide protection and comfy sleeping quarters. They provide great perches for hunting raptors, like Red-shouldered Hawks. Some even come with vine decorations. Snags are really important homes for lots of wildlife. This snag looks like it was created by fire, right!? Yeah, it does. Well, you are wrong. This snag was probably charred by fire after it was snapped by a strong wind or killed by beetles or maybe even struck by lightning. The pine rocklands are no stranger to tropical storms and hurricanes during the summer wet season. Imagine a wind speed of 150 mph blowing through here! The pine rocklands are fire-dependent. They need fire to be a healthy and happy habitat. Remember the pine rocklands has the highest plant diversity of all the Everglades habitats. Fire prevents the open pine rockland from being invaded by hardwood hammock trees. Without the fire, these shrubs grow into tall trees that reduce the available sunlight and increase the shade. Look up. You can feel the sunlight reaching the open understory. Did you feel any sunlight in the hardwood hammock? Fire prevents the pine rockland from becoming a hardwood hammock. Many of the pine rockland plants are built to burn. This coontie here has an underground tuber to survive surface fires. As surface fires burn through the pinelands, the top leaves burn away but the underground tuber survives. It will use the nutrients from the ash and then resprout. Pine trees can survive fire as a seedling. These bushy needles protect the growth stem. And, check out the bark on this mature tree. It is thick and fire-resistant. What an interesting place that is dependent on fire. I am really glad that some of it is left and is protected here in the park. The next habitat is also fire-dependent. You will need to descend one to two feet to get there. Good luck! Thank you. Good-bye!
Hi! Helloooo! Welcome to your first wetland. You just dropped 1-3 feet in elevation. Actually, I think my ears are popping a little bit. This is the habitat that puts glades in the Everglades and grass in River of Grass. This is the Sawgrass Prairie. What do you think? Where is this river? Awww, good question! You are standing in it right now. Ohhhh. Really!? The river is not flowing so much right now. We are in the peak dry season which lasts from about November to April. Water levels are very low in the limestone basement underneath the prairie. But, the rains will come with the summer wet season. The sheetflow of water oozes over and through the limestone and prairie. It is a river that is not in any particular hurry. No rapids or gushing or anything like that.
When can I see this river that isn’t really a river? Sawgrass prairie can have water for an average of 8-10 months. Come back during the summer wet season from about May to October to see the river. Now, about that grass. It is actually a sedge. Most sedges have edges, SEE! And, it is THE dominant vegetation in the sawgrass prairie. Ohhh! Waaaaait!! It is called sawgrass for a reason. If you look at it closely you see the edges of this plant are made up of tiny upward pointing teeth. You have to touch it from the base to the tip so you won’t get cut. Deer will not eat the top of the plant. But, they will eat the white bulb at the bottom of the plant. It is stringy like celery, but it does not really taste like anything. So, deer live here, but what else? Animals like to take cover or sleep in the dense sawgrass but they forage and move around in the open sawgrass. Now, in the more open sawgrass, there are two very popular homes. One is the alligator hole. Alligator hole! Alligators dig a deeper depression in the prairie which becomes a watery oasis during the dry season. Like this one right here! These water holes become critical homes for a whole community of life. Including fish, the alligator’s favorite food. That would be like all my favorite foods coming to live and grow around my house. This prairie oasis is also popular with mammals, birds, and turtles. The other popular home in the open sawgrass prairie is periphyton. It is made up of different kinds of algae. It is at the base of the Everglades food chain. It feels so squishy and gooey. It is a really pretty color. It is light brown with little splashes of green and blue around it. Periphyton is a producer because it gets its energy directly from the sun. Small fish and invertebrates, like apple snails, eat the periphyton. So, the apple snail is a primary consumer because it gets its energy from plants. Up the food chain, the endangered Florida Snail Kite eats apple snails. So, the snail kite is a... ...secondary consumer. Riiight! Sawgrass prairie needs one more ingredient to maintain its title in the River of Grass. Fire! What, where!? This prairie is dominated by sawgrass when it is properly maintained by fire. In fact, this prairie just burned two months ago. Look around for evidence of fire. Beneficial wildfires sweep across the sawgrass prairie even when there is standing water. So, if you think about it, fire flows much like water over these prairies. Fire keeps out intruding trees and cattails. The ash from burning sawgrass provides a flush of nutrients in an otherwise nutrient-poor environment. Lush, green shoots of sawgrass emerge quickly after fires. The tender young sawgrass becomes a food buffet for animals. For thousands of years, fires have been ignited in the Everglades by lightning and people. The sawgrass prairie is visible all around the Everglades. There are many places in South Florida where the sawgrass prairie is gone. This road and water control structure really interrupts the flow of water to the River of Grass. This interruption has consequences for all the prairie dwellers from the alligators to the apple snails. Do you know what this is? Looks like a dry and thirsty sawgrass prairie. Yes, that gray mud is dry periphyton, or marl soil. So, what did you think of the River of Grass? You know, instead of calling it a River of Grass, it should be called a River of Oozing Water and Flowing Fire. OK, you get it. Thanks for showing me the sawgrass prairie. You know, it was a lot cooler than I thought it was going to be! Have fun at your next habitat.
Hey! Laura: Hi! Welcome to the cypress dome. You came from a prairie wetland, right!? Yeah. Well, get ready for your first forested wetland. You are about to descend even deeper into the Everglades. Are you ready to become one with the cypress? What exactly do you mean by becoming one? Although we have received some rain, we are still at the peak of the dry season. So, get ready to walk in some muck and water. Whoahhh. Oooooh...hmm. Cypress trees are really cool. They are ancient and they grow in water. Cypress domes, they occur in lower depressions of the Everglades. So, these depressions, they fill up with water in the wet season. Now, why is it called a dome? The tallest, thickest trees grow in the center of the depression where there is the most water and the deepest peat. Cypress trees are smaller and thinner on the outside of the depression where there is less water and less peat. This creates the appearance of a dome from the outside. Cypress also grows in strands. A strand has a linear shape because deeper water, or sloughs, border the sides of the limestone ridge. We are about to enter the edge of the cypress dome. And go deeper and deeper until we reach the center. There might be an alligator, but that is ok. Come on. An alligator!? Come on! Hey, what are these sticking out of the water? Oh, this is a cypress knee. Actually, this is a group of cypress knees. And, it is very peculiar. It is part of the root system right from that cypress tree. It probably transports oxygen to the submerged roots. It provides extra support for the tree too. Scientists are not really sure what it does. Look around, the dominant plant here is the Bald Cypress. It is called Bald Cypress because it loses all of its hair in winter. Did you say hair? I meant to say leaves. It is a deciduous conifer tree that drops all of its leaves at the beginning of the dry season. That is very unusual for conifers which are also called evergreens. These Bald Cypress trees are pretty big. But there are other areas in the Everglades with very low nutrient soils where the Bald Cypress does not grow so big or so tall. Those are called Dwarf Cypress trees. So, who lives in this flooded forest? Tall cypress trees provide excellent homes for nesting birds like wild turkeys, herons, and egrets. Lots of mammals travel around the cypress swamp like White-tailed Deer, Raccoons, River Otters, Bobcats and even the endangered Florida Panther. Underwater, you will find all kinds of fish, crayfish, snails, and even glass shrimp. The cypress understory has a lot of variety. And can include anything from ferns to other grasses, herbs, and even Sawgrass. This is the water mark. Can you believe this is how high the water got last wet season. As you can see, the water fluctuates here just like the rest of the Everglades. It is really cool how you can see where the water level would go to because the lichen stops growing there. If you look up in the cypress trees, there is a colorful garden of airplants. Airplants are also known as epiphytes. Epiphytic plants attach themselves to other living plants, in this case, the cypress tree. They wrap their roots around the cypress tree instead of into the soil. Look around! Epiphytes include lichens, Spanish Moss, bromeliads and orchids. They don’t harm the tree at all. Epiphytes only use the cypress for support. You know, they are kind of like houseguests that bring all their own food and water. They get their food from photosynthesis, the air, and even decomposing insects. Their seeds are fluffy and easily attach to the cypress bark like velcro. Wow, all these blooming bromeliads and tiny little airplants are so beautiful. What impresses me the most is how these tiny little airplants grow all over the cypress tree. Another cool thing about the cypress tree bark, it is thick enough to survive some fires. The exposed fringe of the cypress dome actually benefits from an occasional visit by fire. You know, fire from next door in the prairie. Fire keeps out unwelcome guests like invading hardwood trees. It also reduces the risk of really intense wildfires. Fire collapses when it enters the dome with all that shade and water. I think I see one of the cypress carnivores right now. Is she talking about a panther?! So, here is the carnivore. This is bladderwort. And, it is a carnivorous plant. And check it out, you see these bladders? It uses them for floating. But even cooler, it catches unsuspecting aquatic insects. Are you ready to descend into the deep? Yeah, I am ready. Alright. If it was the wet season, the water might be over your head. Here we are at the end of the dry season and there is still water in the deepest part of the cypress dome. These deeper depressions often hold water year-round. They are really an important refuge for animals in the Everglades, like alligators. This is pretty much like an alligator hole in the prairie. Alligators will scrape out the cypress debris to make these holes even deeper. So, what did you think? Did you become one with the cypress dome. It was amazing out here. I got to walk in all this water. And really know what it feels like to be here. And, see all the trees and the plant diversity. You really got to watch your step too. Because there are knees popping out. And, there can be holes in the limestone. And, maybe there is an alligator! Now you are ready to go to one of the deepest spots in the freshwater Everglades. If I were a fish in peak dry season, that is where I would go to survive. Well, bye. Good luck! Thank you for showing me around the cypress.
Hello. Ranger Greg: Hi. How are you? I am good. I am good. Look at this place. Do you know what this is? No, I do not know. It is called the slough. So, the slough is the main artery providing freshwater through the River of Grass. Now, you know it is the middle of the dry season, right? Yeah. Interesting, so why is there so much water here if this is the DRY season? So, the slough is the deepest water habitat in the really shallow Everglades. For sometimes eleven months of the year, there is water out here when everything else is dry. Do you hear that? The bird calls? The wind? No, it is something different. Listen really carefully. I can hear it now. The slough is the perfect place to see and feel that heartbeat of the Everglades. I am talking about the rhythm from the dry season or drought to the wet season or flood. This is an annual cycle between drought and flood which is the heartbeat of the Everglades. So, every year during the wet season, water fills up the slough habitat. And, it goes into the cypress habitat. And then into the prairie. And, every year, guess what? Water levels go down during the dry season. Excellent. During the dry season, the slough is the place to be. A lot of wildlife congregates in the slough where the last drops of water remain. It is kind of like those alligator holes out in the sawgrass prairie. It is a watery refuge for lots and lots of wildlife like fish, invertebrates, turtles, alligators, amphibians, snakes, wading birds like egrets, Wood Storks, ibis, limpkins, and herons. Oh my! There is limited space here and the competition can be pretty fierce. Not everyone will make it out alive. There is also new life. Some waterbirds nest in Pond Apples growing by the slough. The Anhinga adults start feeding their newly hatched young from the slough’s fish food buffet. Everyone is packed into the slough like sardines! But no worries, around May or June, the wet season rains and storms will arrive. Those survivors and the newly hatched fish and invertebrates will pack up their bags and leave the slough to repopulate the newly flooded habitats. At the same time, predators like alligators and wading birds will also pack up their bags to follow their mobile prey foods. This seasonal cycle has been part of the Everglades for thousands of years. Wet season, Dry season, Wet season, Dry season, Wet season, Dry season. Wet, Dry, Wet, Dry, Wet, Dry. Wet season. Dry season. So, it is the ebb and the flow of the Everglades heartbeat. That is pretty cool. Go ahead and explore the slough for yourself. Walk around. There is a lot to see this time of year in the dry season. OK, I will be back in a little bit. What did you think of the slough? It is a beautiful day to be out. The sun felt great. I heard a lot of funny sounds like croaks from the herons and the egrets. I saw a little Green Heron perched up on a branch, looking for fish. I saw an Anhinga pop its head out of the water as it was diving for food. I saw the baby alligator sitting on the porous limestone rock. And, I saw a Red-bellied Turtle right by an alligator. I can not believe how all of these predators and prey live right next to each other. Nice, the slough has some cool aquatic plants as well. The dominant aquatic plants of the slough are either submerged or floating around like waterlily or Spatterdock. Plants sprout up from a peat soil that supports a rich food web. There are two sloughs in Everglades National Park. The largest is Shark River Slough that flows into Shark River and then into the Gulf of Mexico. Right now, we are in the much smaller Taylor Slough and that flows into Florida Bay. But, keep in mind that water in all these sloughs is completely managed by people so that the water no longer flows freely like it used to. Why is it called 'Shark' River Slough? Well, do not worry, there are no sharks in the slough because this is freshwater. But, this slough will eventually go all the way down to Shark River which is by the mangrove coastline where you will find baby sharks. Anyway, I think the mangrove habitat is your next destination. Well, good luck. OK, thank you very much.
Hi. Hi. Welcome to the mangroves, your first salty habitat. These mangroves look really cool. I have never seen anything like it. I know, right. Mangrove trees live where the freshwater from the Everglades meets the saltwater from the ocean. We are standing on the edge of one of the most biggest mangrove forests in the world. Really!? Really. So, it is the end of the dry season and just the beginning of the wet season. But, the mangroves are influenced by another cycle since they are so close to the sea. Are you talking about the tides? You got it. Mangroves are an intertidal habitat. That means there is a change in tides every day. A low tide and a high tide. The pulse of tidal water in and out of the mangroves is key to their survival. Like the yearly cycle between the wet and the dry season in the Everglades. But here, the flooding and draining happen every single day. Yeah, and actually twice each day. The flat Everglades coast is huge which creates a huge intertidal area and thus a huge mangrove forest. Tides transform a sluggish, salty system into the most productive system in the Everglades. Tides wash toxic compounds, debris, and salt buildup out of the mangroves. Tides also wash in oxygenated water from the sea and freshwater from the slough. When freshwater mixes with saltwater, it is called brackish water. All of this washing around makes nutrients more available for the mangrove residents. Hmm, that kind of reminds me of the cycles of a washing machine. The rinsing and the draining. The water flowing in and out. You are one step closer to unlocking the mysterious mangrove forest of the Everglades. Mangrove trees flourish in this subtropical, intertidal, salty environment where no other trees can survive. Here, along the Everglades coastline are four kinds of mangroves: Red, Black, White, and one called the Buttonwood. Each one is a marvel with unique adaptations for living on the salty coast. Which one is this? This is the Red mangrove. Red mangroves have long arching roots called prop roots. Prop roots first reach out and then curve down to soil. The roots look like legs that want to get up and walk across the water. Prop roots also have special pores called lenticels that supply air to the submerged roots. Red mangroves are most common along the outer coastline where waves and tides are greatest. Prop roots increase tree stability in this wild, unstable environment. Red mangroves are the first line of defense during hurricane storm surges and strong winds. They actually absorb flood waters and help prevent the coast from washing into the bay through erosion. What is this? Oh, that is a mangrove propagule. That is the seedling that starts growing on the parent tree. Ohhhh. So, it floats around like this for awhile until it becomes waterlogged. And then, when it gets waterlogged, it tips upright. And then, it sprouts the roots, it sprouts the leaves and then eventually maybe it takes hold and becomes a new tree. Ohh, very cool! Lets walk a bit inland. Black mangroves are more common along the inner coastline where tides are much lower. Can you see why it is called a Black mangrove? The Black mangrove has these cool adaptations to their roots. They are called pneumatophores. And they grow straight up out of the mud to just above the highest water level. They are like little breathing tubes or snorkels that provide air to the flooded roots. The roots of Red and Black mangroves do a great job at filtering the salt from the seawater. Roots block most of the salt, but some salt does slip through. The Black mangrove excretes this excess salt through glands on its leaves. Tasting is believing. Hmm, salty! Tastes like Black mangrove. Hey, lets go for a canoe ride. OK, that sounds great. Most of the mangroves around here are Red mangroves. But, there is also a Buttonwood right there in front of you. This one? Yes. It has smaller yellow-green leaves. The Buttonwood is named after the fruit which kind of looks like buttons. See the rough bark of the Buttonwood. It is a great place for those air plants to land and take root. The mangrove forest is a wonderful home for lots of animals. See the dense mangrove foliage, the maze of prop roots above and below the water, and the rich mud. Another thing about mangroves is they do not like fire. They are actually fire intolerant. Mangrove trees can not resprout after a fire. However, fire does help to keep them out of the neighboring coastal prairie which is fire-dependent. So, the mangrove is like the hardwood hammock and cypress that do not like fire. On the other hand, the sawgrass prairie and pine rocklands need fire. You see this? This is the base of the mangrove food web. This mangrove leaf? Mmmhm. Mangrove leaves fall into the water and become food for decomposers like fungus and bacteria. Decomposing leaves become food for grazing invertebrates like juvenile fish, crabs, shrimp, and oysters. These prey then attract carnivores like bigger fish, birds, mammals, people, and reptiles like the endangered American crocodile. Wading birds can roost agove in the mangrove canopy and then forage below in the exposed mud flats. The mangrove forest is an important nursery for hoards of juvenile fish and invertebrates. They use the mangroves for only the beginning phase of their life cycle. Then, they leave here when they are big enough to survive in the adjacent open waters of Florida Bay or the Gulf of Mexico. So, the next time I eat shrimp and lobster from the ocean, I have to thank the little mangrove leaf who fed the shrimp and lobster who are feeding me. You got it. So, what did you think of the mangroves? The mangrove forest is less mysterious now that I understand some of the adaptations, the food web, and some of its residents. There is still a lot of mystery for me. I would really like to see what it looks like underwater. I know, me too. The dry season is a great time to visit. During the wet season, the Salt Marsh mosquito kind of takes over. Ooooh. So, there is one more habitat left for you to explore downstream from the mangroves. Good luck. Thank you, thanks for showing me around. Sure thing, have fun.
Hey. Laura: Hi. Welcome to Florida Bay. This is actually the lowest, the saltiest and the wettest habitat of the Everglades. So, Florida Bay is where the freshwater ends up meeting the saltwater. So, what do you think? It is beautiful here. And, I really love that you can smell the salty water from the bay. But, I do not really understand how Florida Bay is part of the Everglades ecosystem. Well, do you remember the River of Grass? Yeah. You know the freshwater that oozes through the sawgrass prairie and down through the deeper sloughs. Where do you think it ends up going? It empties into Florida Bay? Right. It also empties into the Gulf of Mexico to the west side of Florida Bay. And, do not forget that water flow of the Everglades is not completely natural. Florida Bay does not receive as much freshwater today as what it once did 100 years ago. We are standing right now where the Florida mainland dissolves out into Florida Bay. The limestone foundation underneath the Everglades actually drops right around four to five feet underneath this water to create Florida Bay. Which is a huge, shallow basin of brackish to salty water. Florida Bay extends all the way down south to the Florida Keys. And, it is so shallow, we could actually walk all the way down to the Florida Keys. Whoa, whoa, whoa! Except for the mud. Florida Bay is covered with this really soft mud. It is like powdered sugar. Florida Bay is home to the American Crocodile. So, we really do not recommend swimming either. So, the best way to explore Florida Bay is by boat. Out here on Florida Bay, below our canoe, you can end up seeing things like sawfish, jellyfish, sharks. You could also see species of fish like redfish, tarpon, snook, snapper. We could even see dolphin too if you keep your eyes open for them. So, one thing to keep in mind about the salinity level of Florida Bay is that it fluctuates. Especially in comparison to the ocean which typically sticks around 35 parts per thousand. Florida Bay fluctuates between 5 and up to 75 parts per thousand. And all based upon the wet and dry season. So, in the wet season with all the water, the salinity level will actually decrease. Whereas, during the dry season, the salinity level of Florida Bay will increase. I get it. So, if you add freshwater into the salty system, it dilutes it. It is probably pretty salty right now at the peak of the dry season. Eww. That is really salty. It does not taste very good. What we are paddling alongside is an island that we call a key. And, Florida Bay has over 100 of these keys. And, each one of these keys, the limestone is just a little bit higher here in elevation than the area around it. And, each one of these keys are ringed with the mangrove trees which provide excellent nesting as well as roosting sites for animals like the Bald Eagle and the endangered Wood Stork. Here we are approaching a mud flat. Florida Bay is made up of all of these ridges and valleys. And, Florida Bay also has strong low and high tides. And during the low tides, all the water drains away from these ridges exposing things like worms, crabs, stranded fish and other food sources. And all these different wading birds like Roseate Spoonbills and Snowy Egrets and Great Egrets end up rushing out onto these mud flats to feast on all of this newly exposed food. This cycle happens twice a day. The water rushes out and then rushes right back in with the high and low tide. Right now, below our canoe is one of the most fascinating submerged homes in the Everglades. It is often overlooked as fishing boats zoom over it. Unfortunately, many careless boaters damage this home with the propellers from these boats. What is he talking about? I am talking about seagrasses. The bottom of Florida Bay is covered with beds of seagrasses. And, there is four different kinds. There is Manatee grass, Shoal grass, Widgeon grass, and Turtle grass. Is seagrass the same thing as sea weed? No. Actually, most seagrasses are really insulted whenever you call them seaweed. Seaweed is a primitive algae whereas seagrasses are more advanced flowering plants. Seagrasses need certain conditions in order to be happy. You know, like warm, shallow, tropical or subtropical waters. And, clear water to allow sunlight to penetrate. Seagrass is also a producer, just like periphyton. What do you think are the seagrass consumers? You said turtle grass was one of the varieties, right? So, sea turtles are one of the consumers. Yeah, exactly. Seagrass consumers range from sea turtles to tiny snails to even 2000-pound manatees that eat the blades of this grass. And, it is no surprise that manatees are nicknamed sea cows. Many other creatures end up grazing on the marine algaes that are also growing on the seagrass. The seagrass home is a key nursery for juvenile fish, shrimp, crabs, and even lobster. Another really cool home in Florida Bay is the hardbottom community of sponges, sea fans and algaes. It occurs on limestone rock by the shore. But, time is running short. We better get back to the mainland. Otherwise, we might get stranded out here during low tide. Thank you so much. I had an amazing day. I think now I am ready to go and take everything in and do some of my own exploring. Alright, thanks again. You are welcome, take care. Yeah, the osprey has landed.
We talked about each habitat individually. But, they are all part of an interdependent Everglades ecosystem. The boundaries between each habitat seems subtle. Sooo, the Everglades is all about small changes in elevation, wet season to dry season, limestone, fire, water levels, freshwater to brackish water to saltwater, and all the plants, animals, and people that call this place their home. What a huge diversity of tropical and temperate species. In the Everglades, there is endangered species and also, an endangered habitat. Wow. I am so excited to start my new job here. Hey. Hi. How was your day out there? It was really great. Are you ready to give your first program? I am ready. Good luck. Thank you. So, here we are, this is our second habitat of the day. This is the sawgrass prairie. Underneath the sawgrass, there is a little piece about this big. It is white and it is actually edible. It is kind of like celery, a little bit. And, the deer, they love to eat that stuff. Looks like a statue.
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Did You Know?
Mermaid sightings have been reported by sailors throughout history who often blamed the part-woman, part-fish beings for leading them astray. But folklore experts believe that what those sailors were seeing were not mermaids, but rather air-breathing manatees, or their dugong relatives.