The temperate climate of South Florida provides a suitable environment for a large variety of plants and animals in the area (Kras, 2009). Its unique water habitat provides a home for many reptiles and other endangered species such as the manatee, the Florida panther and the wood stork. In addition, most of the wading birds are endangered and need to be preserved.
According to Kras (2009), more than 360 species of birds exist or visit the Everglades. Some of this includes wading birds, of which currently about 90 to 95 percent have disappeared. This is because of construction of dikes and poor water management. Examples of this wading bird species that thrive in this ecosystem are Louisiana heron, black-crowned heron, green-backed heron, and the yellow crowned night heron among other heron species (Kras, 2009). The largest wading bird in the Everglade area is the great blue heron with a height of about 1.2 meters and a wingspan of about 1.8 meters. Thriving in the fresh and salt waters of the Everglades is the little blue heron. This bird usually resides close to the shallow waters and strikes its food at a high speed (Kras, 2009). Other wading birds in the Everglades include snowy white egrets, wood storks, white ibises and great egrets.
Other Everglades birds include the white pelican that has a wingspan of 2.7 meters. These birds use the wind to soar high into the sky. Other non-wading birds include turkey vultures, ospreys, bald eagles, which mainly feed on small reptiles and mammals (Kras, 2009). In addition, small screech owls occupy abandoned nests of woodpeckers and feed on insects and mice. The Everglades kite and the limpkin are other non-wading birds that exist in the Everglades. They feed on only apple snails (Kras, 2009).
There exists about forty different species of mammals in the Everglades (Kras, 2009). Mammals thriving in the hammocks include the Florida panthers, bobcats, black bears, white- tailed deer, opossums, raccoons, and marsh rabbits (Kras, 2009). The Florida panther wanders through a large area while hunting. Its main source of food is the white-tailed deer. The marsh rabbits feed on the grass that grows in the Everglades. The white-tailed deer is found in the Cypress National Preserve and the Everglades National Park. Its speed and agility helps it escape from its predators. The manatee is a mammal that swims in the freshwaters of the Everglades.
Snails and Bugs
In the wet season, a large number of snails can be found in trees. These snails feed on the lichen that grows on trees. During the dry season, these snails sleep until the next wet season. Spiders that exist in this area include the jumping spider, crab spider and the fishing spider. The jumping spider hunts its prey on foot rather than using a web, while the fishing spider uses a web underwater to catch its prey (Kras, 2009). In addition, present in the Everglades is the black scorpion that is known to have a vicious bite. Butterflies that exist in the Everglades include the buckeye butterfly, the spicebush swallowtail and the monarch butterfly (Kras, 2009).
According to Kras (2009), there exist over fifty different kinds of reptiles in the Everglades. Thriving in fresh and brackish water is the American alligator, which can grow to about 5.3 meters in length. The females are protective of their young and usually place their eggs on land. Crocodiles are endangered in Everglades and are likely to attack humans.
Some of the snakes that exist in the Everglades include rough green snakes, Florida water snakes, corn snakes and the Everglades rat snakes (Kras, 2009). The warm and moist climate provides an atmosphere that is favorable for the snakes to thrive. Examples of venomous snakes include the diamondback rattlesnake, coral snake, pygmy rattlesnake and the cottonmouth moccasin. Turtles include the striped mud turtles, soft-shell turtles, leatherbacks, loggerheads turtles, and the snapping turtles. The box turtles flourish in the pinelands and the hammocks (Kras, 2009). The green tree frog is common in the Everglades, while the pig frogs exist in the freshwater marshes.
Most common fishes are the tarpon, largemouth bass, garfish, bream, and the sunfish. In addition, tiny mosquito fish also exist in the Everglades waters (Kras, 2009). During the drying season, some of this fish such as the sunfish and the bream die when the water levels decrease. However, the garfish, mosquito fish, and the bowfin have developed survival techniques to cope with the reduced water levels.
The most common plant in the Everglades is the sawgrass. This plant is tough and can grow to a height of about 3 meters. Another plant is the slash pine, which has a thick bark and is moist to protect it during forest fires. Other trees found in the Everglades include the wild coffee, strangler fig, wax myrtle, custard apple tree, satin leaf, and the buttonwood. Mangroves in the Everglades include the buttonwood, white, red, and the black mangrove (Kras, 2009).
Plants such as the pine in the Everglades depend on the natural fires in order to survive among its competitors (Ake, 2008). This tree requires a bare ground such as the one that is burnt off by fire for its seeds to germinate. In the Everglade waters, there exist periphytons, which look like yellowish slimy clumps. These periphytons act as a food source for snails, insects, and small fish found in the Everglades waters (Kras, 2009). In the dry season, the peripytons act as a source of water and shelter where small marine creatures can live. Lichens thriving on trees act as a food source for the snails.
During the dry seasons, alligators search for water by digging holes in the ground. In the process, these holes are filled with water that tends to attract other organisms. Discrete ecosystems develop in the holes where fish, insects, and plants such as the water lily begin to grow (Kras, 2009). The birds such as the herons come to feed on insects and fish. During the dry season, the holes made by the alligators maintain the life cycle in the Everglades. The Florida panther hunts for the white-tailed deer as its main source of food.
Human Intrusions in the Area
According to Ake (2008), the main human activities that have caused an imbalance in the Everglade ecosystem include large-scale agriculture, over-development, and political favoritism. Human interference in such activities like constructing canals to deviate water to their farms has resulted to a decline in the water flows in the Everglades (Ake, 2008). Water that previously was purified by the wetlands is now being discharged raw into the lake, which has resulted to the formation of algal blooms because of the high nutrient content in the water. High nutrient content in the water reduces oxygen levels resulting to death of fish (Ake, 2008).
Existing Protections and Efforts made to further this Preservation
The main protection existing is the listing of endangered species such as the Florida panther and the Wood stork. The State of Florida is trying to ensure the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) is implemented (World Wildlife Fund, 2008). Currently, farmers have employed best-managed practices that have prevented more than three thousand five hundred metric tons of phosphorus from entering the Everglades.
In addition, the construction of artificial treatment marshes utilizing natural plants aids in removal of harmful nutrients in the water flowing to the Everglades. This combined with improved agricultural practices has helped to decrease the phosphorus concentrations (Everglades Restoration, 2012).
What Individuals can do to Preserve Diversity
Individuals can help in preserving life forms in the Everglades area by reducing the levels of pollution in the Everglades waters and wetlands. In addition, they can ensure that they employ the best management practices so that household chemicals do find their way into the waters. Furthermore, individuals living in the surrounding Everglades area can promote the preservation of endangered species by launching campaigns aimed at discouraging poaching in the Everglades area.
Additional measures that may help preserve the Everglades may include controlling mining and development. Furthermore, by acquiring easements and title for areas adjacent to Everglades that are occupied by wildlife will help reduce destruction of habitats. In addition, by establishing comprehensive plans that will handle transportation matters will help reduce fragmentation by road projects.
Loss If Intrusion Goes Unnoticed
Failure to control and stop intrusion will result to poaching of the white-tailed deer, the Florida panther and the alligators (World Wildlife Fund, 2008). In addition, crocodiles that are being hunted have a tendency to retaliate and attack humans. Moreover, wading birds are already endangered and further intrusion may result to their extinction. Furthermore, if the intrusion is not prevented degradation will continue to increase and in the end affect the whole ecosystem of the Everglades.
Ake, A. (2008). Everglades: An ecosystem Facing Choices and Challenges. Florida: Pineapple
Everglades Restoration (2012). Retrieved from http://www.dep.state.fl.us/secretary/everglades/
Kras, S., L. (2009). The Everglades: Nature’s Wonders. New York: Marshall Cavendish.
World Wildlife Fund (2008). Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/article/Everglades#gen7