What We Monitor

Vital signs are a subset of physical, biological, and chemical elements that are selected to represent the overall ecological health of a park's resources or the effects of stressors to those ecosystems. Monitoring these vital signs can provide information about changes or trends in the park's natural resources.

The South Florida/Caribbean Network has identified a prioritized list of vital signs and is developing protocols and field monitoring for at least eleven of them. The protocols for colonial nesting birds, coral reef community, coral reef water temperature, mangrove soil surface elevation tables, Florida reef fish, and Virgin Islands reef fish have been approved and published. Protocol documents for forest vegetation, lobster, mangrove-marsh ecotone, periphyton, and seagrass are in development. Some vital signs remain unfunded at this time.

Marine Systems

  • Small blue fish swimming in a coral reef
    Coral Reef Communtities

    Coral reefs support incredible diversity and play a vital role in supporting fisheries, nursery areas, tourism, and shoreline protection.

  • Scientist collecting coral reef water temperature data
    Coral Reef Water Temperature

    Water temperature is collected as a basic water quality parameter and can help us understand coral bleaching and disease outbreaks.

  • Spiny lobster resting in the bottom of a coral reef

    The Caribbean spiny lobster is one of the most economically important fisheries in both Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

  • An angelfish exploring a coral reef
    Marine Fish Communities

    The health of reef fish communities has a large impact on the economies of south Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

  • Scientist collecting seagrass data

    Seagrass habitats serve as nursery areas for many marine species, supporting a variety of vertebrate and invertebrate life.

Terrestrial Systems

  • A great egret in flight
    Colonial Nesting Birds

    Several bird species nest in colonies on offshore islands and serve as important indicators of aquatic ecosystem health.

  • A forest containing trees with sampling tags
    Forest Vegetation

    Establishing forest plots can help determine if forest communities are stable and resilient through time.

  • An exotic palm tree standing with other exotic plants
    Invasive Exotic Plants

    Invasive plants are a serious threat to the ecological integrity of our parks, so we monitor for new invasions to reduce their impact.

  • Dwarf mangroves off in the distance in a marsh
    Mangrove-Marsh Ecotone

    Ecotones are transition zones between habitats and may move in response to changes in climate or hydrology.

  • Soil elevation being measured by an armature
    Mangrove Soil Surface Elevation Tables

    Monitoring the rate of change in soil elevation helps us predict the ability of mangrove forests to regenerate.

  • Composition of periphyton in a freshwater marsh

    Periphyton is a fundamental part of the food web as the primary food source for small consumers, including fish and invertebrates.

Last updated: October 20, 2020