Corkscrew Watershed Science Forum Presentation Summaries

The following summaries were curated from presentations shared during the 2024 Corkscrew Watershed Science Forum.

This article is a continuation of the 2024 Corkscrew Watershed Science Forum summary.  

Corkscrew Watershed Initiative
Laura Layman, South Florida Water Management District

We learned about the Corkscrew Watershed Initiative (CWI) from Laura Layman, Lead Project Manager for the South Florida Water Management District. She mirrored many of Dr. Clem’s observations on wetland degradation and explained how, through this three-year initiative, her team is developing and implementing a comprehensive strategy to restore the ecology of the Corkscrew system with an emphasis on hydrologic restoration. A Technical Working Group includes several local governments and other entities working together to advise the SFWMD in their decision-making. SFWMD will provide opportunities for public input each year through 2027 via hybrid in-person/online meetings. Learn more about the project.

Overview of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) Restoration Coordination and Verification (RECOVER) Southwest Florida Module
Lisa Baron, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Lisa Baron with the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) shared an overview of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) Restoration Coordination and Verification (RECOVER) Southwest Florida Module. This is a wide-ranging effort that relies on the collaboration of many local experts to develop a framework that describes the ecology of our region and allows for improved decision-making, evaluation of restoration alternatives, and gauges restoration progress. They are looking to fill many knowledge gaps and encourage more local experts to participate.

Ave Maria University Campus as a Valuable Resource for Southwest Florida Native Plant Species Conservation
Sandra Tirado, Ave Maria University

At nearby Ave Maria, the university campus is serving as a valuable resource for Southwest Florida native plant species conservation. Sandra Tirado, PhD, looks at how altered water chemistry combined with a lack of fire encourages invasive plants to thrive. Her team works to determine the presence of non-native and invasive species on campus to preserve, manage, and remediate their property for the conservation of valuable Southwest Florida plants using biocontrol and student efforts. They obtained grants from the Florida Native Plant Society to improve the soil’s resistance to invasive plants and increase species diversity and ultimately hope to include prescribed fire in their management plans.

Conservation Seedbanking: Developing a Supply of Native Plant Materials for Southwest Florida
Daniel Agis and Jaycie Newton, Naples Botanical Garden

Staff at the Naples Botanical Garden discussed conservation seed banking as a critical step in developing a supply of native plants for Southwest Florida. Many native plants that are important for restoration are hard to find commercially. After Hurricane Ian, many local dunes were overwashed and an emergency sand berm was installed in Naples, but without plants, 40 percent of that sand was lost in the following year. Foredune stabilizer plants like sea oats and railroad vines that trap sand and can recover from overwash are must-have species for any dune restoration project.  A new Conservation Collection of dune plants and seeds at the Garden will enable experimentation with best practices for establishing native plants from the seeds of many of these species and create a native plant nursery from which seeds can be retained for future use. They hope to eventually make the seeds available for beachside property owners as well as land managers.

Effects of Hurricane Ian on Mangrove Forests
Win Everham and Brian Bovard, Florida Gulf Coast University

Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) professors Win Everham, PhD, and Brian Bovard, PhD, presented their findings on mangroves after Hurricane Ian. With three major storms hitting our area since 2017, Southwest Florida needs more healthy mangroves along our coasts. FGCU’s long-term mangrove monitoring plots in Estero tell us that trees are dying as a result of leaf loss brought on by Hurricane Ian’s winds and the influx of dirt and sand from the associated storm surge. Thanks to cell phones and other technology, measuring and monitoring these locations has become much easier, enabling scientists to create digital models of seedling regrowth. It is important to expand these research efforts to better understand impacts at a larger scale. In many areas, mangroves are squeezed between the city and the sea, but research shows that the trees are much better at armoring human communities when they have space to slowly retreat in response to coastal events. Their findings also suggest that planning for mangrove migration inland as sea level rises is the best way for coastal communities to benefit from the shoreline stabilization services they provide.

Lichens in Southwest Florida’s Cypress Swamps
William Sanders, Florida Gulf Coast University

Also from Florida Gulf Coast University,  William Sanders, PhD, shared his expertise on lichens in Southwest Florida’s cypress swamps, including a unique, cloudlike lichen he discovered at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. A lichen is the product of a fungus capturing algae and using it to produce energy through photosynthesis. Sanders explained that, of 100,000 types of fungus in the world, roughly 20,000 of them rely on algae for food. Botryolepraria is different from other Crustose lichens because of the way the fungus suspends the algae in its tissue. This particular lichen has previously been discovered in caves and on limestone and now is known to occur on the old-growth cypress bark at the Sanctuary.  

Lee County Mosquito Control District’s Use of the Sterile Insect Technique for Suppression of Aedes aegypti (L.).
Rachel Morreale, Lee County Mosquito Control District

With warmer temperatures and increasing flooding across the state, managing disease-spreading mosquitoes is becoming ever more important. Traditional pesticide applications by air and water reduce the number of mosquitoes, but because these insects can become resistant to pesticides and are found in so many different habitats, a better approach is necessary. Lee County Mosquito Control District is using the sterile insect technique for suppression of Aedes aegypti, a nonnative mosquito known to spread yellow fever and Zika virus, among others. Rachel Morreale outlined the steps the District takes to raise captive mosquitoes, sterilize male pupae using x-ray ionizing radiation, and release them as adults to mate with wild female mosquitoes that then do not produce eggs. This technique makes it possible to maintain a lower-density mosquito population without releasing chemicals in the environment or eradicating an important food source for birds and other wildlife.

Home Ranges of the American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) on the Florida Gulf Coast University Campus
Maggie Lou Hughes, Florida Gulf Coast University

A research project undertaken by an undergraduate student at Florida Gulf Coast University is using radio telemetry to study the seasonal movements and behavior of American alligators on campus. Using snatch hooks and snare poles and with permits issued by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, a team of students collected alligators larger than 60 cm and installed tracking devices on them. Throughout the year, they used radio receivers to locate the tagged alligators and track the distances they traveled every week. The results confirmed no clear difference in movement patterns of males and females, but they are greatly impacted by human activities, especially when it comes to food. More research is needed to correlate movement patterns with water levels, while more education is necessary to improve human safety and keep wild alligator populations healthy.  

Florida Panther Conservation on Private Land
Carol Rizkalla, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Florida’s most endangered species, the Florida panther, has been slowly increasing in numbers since near extinction at roughly 30 individuals just 40 years ago. Since then, the human population has skyrocketed, resulting in panthers increasingly competing with people for space, especially on ranchlands. Because the big cats sometimes prey on livestock, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has developed a Landowner Assistance Program that pays ranchers for their losses while another rewards large landowners for maintaining habitat for panthers. These programs aim to increase people’s tolerance of panthers on their property to encourage the cats to spread their range north of the Caloosahatchee River, a necessary step in their population recovery. According to FWC’s Carol Rizkalla, a viable population has been defined as one in which there is a 95 percent probability of persistence for 100 years. The recovery plan indicates that the Florida panther would be downlisted to threatened when there are two populations of 240 individuals.

Potential Causes of Snail Kite Range Expansion
Brian Jeffery, University of Florida

Range expansion of the federally endangered Snail Kite following the spread of a non-native prey item provided an interesting ecology story. These birds historically bred in wetlands south of Lake Okeechobee, but their population declined significantly until the early 2000s due to the degradation of water quality and irregular water level patterns that were wreaking havoc on wetland plants and the kites’ namesake food item, apple snails. Their numbers have since rebounded in many areas. Brian Jeffery at the University of Florida manages a monitoring program that has documented Snail Kite range expansion into new areas, like Paynes Prairie in north Central Florida. The arrival of nonnative apple snails in 2017, likely made possible by copious rainfall and flooding from Hurricane Irma, enabled the invasive snails to move into Paynes Prairie, and in 2018, the first Snail Kites nested there. In 2019, the area produced 75 nests, 27 percent of all surveyed nests in Florida. Jeffery indicated that kites could continue to expand northward to habitats that harbor snails and include less forested areas that are ideal for nesting. While data suggest Snail Kites have been successful in spreading to areas with existing desirable habitats, scientists are hopeful that continued restoration efforts in South Florida will lead to a return of kite nesting in other parts of their historic range. 

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