Florida may be hot and muggy, but did you know that it’s home to the 1.5 million-acre Everglades ecosystem?
The Everglades is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States.
It was first dedicated as a nature preserve on December 6th, 1947, which makes it 75 years old!
Nature preserves like the Everglades are places where native animals, plants, and bacteria are managed to allow them to thrive.
Humans are not allowed to build homes or businesses on these tracts of land, so as not to disturb the cycle of nature.
The Everglades boasts one of the most beautiful and diverse ecosystems in the United States – and in the entire world.
Some of the animals and plants that inhabit it don’t exist anywhere else on the planet.
Some of them are even endangered species that would not be alive today were it not for the Everglades National Park.
If you’re going to visit Florida or buy land there, you should become familiar with these top things to know about the Everglades ecosystem.
1. What Kind Of Ecosystem is the Everglades?
The Everglades ecosystem is made up mostly of subtropical wetlands.
Wetlands are areas of land where the soil is either covered or nearly covered by water.
Most of the Everglades is saturated with freshwater that comes from two sources:
Rainfall – Around 60 inches of rain falls on the Everglades annually
Lake Okeechobee – When it rains, the water in Florida’s largest lake, Lake Okeechobee, fills up and spills excess water into the Everglades, like a bowl that is overflowing.
One-third of the preserve is made up of water from the Atlantic Ocean – more specifically from Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
These areas are called marine and estuarine ecosystems.
Marine ecosystems have high levels of salt, such as you would find in ocean water.
Estuarine ecosystems are so named because they form in estuaries, which are coastal bodies of water where freshwater, such as from rivers and streams, mix with salt water from the ocean.
In addition to wetlands, the Everglades is also home to habitats for hardwood hammock, pines, cypress, and mangroves.
Pine rocklands – the forests where the pines in the Everglades grow – are particularly notable for two reasons:
They are fire-dependent, which means they must be regularly burned to ash to allow for new growth.
They are an endangered species of tree.
Another important tree is the mangrove, which grows in stands along the coast of Florida.
Interestingly, the Everglades National Park is home to the largest protected forest of mangroves in the western hemisphere.
All these habitats contribute to a complex, multi-layered ecosystem.
2. Is The Everglades A Unique Ecosystem?
The Everglades ecosystem is one of the most unique places on the planet.
It has a distinctive combination of a subtropical climate with various types of habitats that you won’t find anywhere else on Earth.
It’s also home to a huge, diverse system of animal and plant life.
3. Why Is The Everglades An Important Ecosystem?
The Everglades is important because it houses one of the most varied and unique ecosystems in the world.
Without it, many endangered species of flora and fauna would no longer exist.
75 years ago, the National Park Service decided that it was worth preserving, and now it’s a carefully managed and maintained natural habitat.
Humans are barred from building or living on this land in an effort to maintain the Everglades as they have existed for thousands of years.
In this way, we can preserve a little corner of nature for our children and their children to treasure, generation after generation.
4. Threats To The Everglades Ecosystem
Sadly, there are a number of threats to the Everglades ecosystem and its future, particularly where endangered flora and fauna are concerned.
Reduced Water Flows – Water flow throughout the Everglades has been reduced over the years because of water management and land development outside the national park.
When the flow is reduced, the water levels in the wetland sloughs get low.
Sloughs are deep parts of wetlands that flood periodically when there is an influx of water to the region.
Many animals and plants depend on sloughs to survive.
But without enough water flowing into them, this fragile ecosystem becomes disrupted.
Water Pollution – The water in the Everglades contains high concentrations of mercury, which likely comes from nearby power plants and waste incinerators.
The presence of mercury is a threat to the ecosystem, as it can negatively impact the neurological and reproductive functions of some animals.
Pesticides are another water pollutant that has been found in water, sediment, and fish in the Everglades.
Invasive Species – Invasive species are species of animals and plants that take over ecosystems where they do not naturally reside.
One such example of an invasive species in the Everglades is the Burmese python.
In the last ten years, Floridians have released their pet pythons – intentionally or accidentally – into the Everglades, where they have since thrived.
Studies suggest that this species is the reason the number of mammals in the preserve has gone down.
Thus, Burmese pythons pose a threat to the Everglades ecosystem.
Currently, the National Park Service is implementing a strategy of working with authorized agents to remove the pythons whenever they are found.
In fact, if you apply to become an authorized agent, you can get paid for every python you trap.
Sea Level Rise – In the last 50 years, the sea level has gradually risen in the Everglades.
This is causing ocean water to creep further inland, which is shifting habitats further inland as well.
While the change is gradual, it is still a change, and it is contributing to the destruction of habitats where some of the Everglades’ endangered plant species naturally grow.
5. Everglades Animals
The Everglades is home to a wide variety of animals, including amphibians, birds, fish, insects, mammals, and reptiles.
Many of these animals are endangered species.
This means that there are only a few of them left anywhere in the world, and they are in danger of dying out altogether (AKA going extinct).
Endangered mammals include the Florida panther, Florida bonneted bat, and the West Indian manatee.
Some endangered reptiles you may recognize are the American alligator and crocodile, the Eastern indigo snake, and various kinds of sea turtles: loggerhead, green, leatherback, hawksbill, and Kemp’s ridley.
Many birds in the Everglades are at risk for extinction as well, including the Cape Sable seaside sparrow, the red knot, and the ivory-billed woodpecker.
If you ever visit the Everglades National Park, here are some tips for how to behave around the wildlife you find there.
Keep a safe distance away from any animal you see.
Even if they appear cute or non-threatening, they can still hurt you – and vice versa.
Stay on the trails.
Don’t stray too far or you may run into an animal’s den or nesting grounds.
If an animal feels that you are threatening them or its young, it is apt to become aggressive.
That’s definitely a situation you want to avoid!
Don’t take your pet with you on the trails in the park, not even if they’re on a leash.
Pets can get loose or antagonize the native wildlife, which puts you, your pet, and the other animals in danger.
Don’t feed the Everglades animals.
They have their own food that they’re supposed to eat, and you could harm them by giving them something that’s not in their normal diet.
Remember that you are entering the animals’ territory.
Have a healthy fear and respect for them as you observe them – from a safe distance – with awe and gratitude.
6. Everglades Plants
The subtropical climate of the Everglades ecosystem makes the perfect environment for a diverse, complex array of vegetation to thrive.
In fact, there are even more plant species in the Everglades than there are animals.
However, due to early settlers draining much of the Florida wetlands for farming and landscape cultivation purposes, many of the Everglades’ native species were lost forever.
Still, after the Everglades National Parks was formed in 1947, a lot of effort went into preserving what was left, and there are still quite a few native plants surviving today, including bromeliads, epiphytic orchids, pines, and mangroves.
Sadly, there are also about 113 species of plants that are classified as endangered.
In addition, there are also invasive species of plants that pose an enormous threat to the Everglades ecosystem.
These include the Australian pine, the old world climbing fern, melaleuca, Brazilian pepper, and seaside Mahoe.
An invasive plant is usually introduced into a new ecosystem by humans, who transplant it from another environment.
This transplanting may occur on purpose or by accident, but the reason is not as important as the effects.
Whenever the National Park Service finds an invasive plant in the Everglades, they work as quickly as possible to remove it without harming the native vegetation.
7. Everglades Climate
The climate in the Everglades ecosystem is subtropical.
“Subtropical” is a term used to describe a climate that is a level below tropical.
It consists of summers that are hot, humid, and sticky, and winters that are mild and dry.
The temperatures in the summer typically get up into the low 90s.
Mid-May to November is also known as Florida’s wet season, and it typically receives up to 60 inches of rainfall.
June to November is the time of year when hurricanes appear off the coast of Florida.
Hurricanes are a kind of tornado made up of water, and they tend to form around climates like the Everglades.
When they hit, the Everglades National Park is closed to visitors.
8. Everglades National Park
The continued existence of the Everglades ecosystem is due in large part to the founding of the Everglades National Park.
The Everglades are natural wetlands, but they used to cover a lot more ground than they do today.
In fact, the water that once flowed over the land from the Kissimmee River to Lake Okeechobee and all the way to the estuaries on the coast covered nearly 11,000 square miles.
But over the centuries, human beings – from early settlers to modern land developers – worked to drain the water away to serve their own purposes.
With the water would go all kinds of unique animals, plants, and individual ecosystems that depend on the wetlands to survive.
In the early 1900s, the Everglades were under threat of being drained completely.
But thanks to the support of many different types of advocates, including scientists and conservationists, the Everglades National Park was established in 1947.
Now, 75 years later, we have a preserved piece of the south Florida wetlands that will hopefully remain intact for many more years to come.
For many people, the alligators of the Everglades are its key attraction.
But for others, they are a reason to stay clear.
If you fall in the latter camp, take heart!
Alligator attacks are very rare.
By one account, there have only been 24 fatal alligator attacks in all of Florida since 1973.
In fact, Shark Valley, one of the most popular spots in the Everglades National Park, has had just one alligator attack since 1943.
It’s actually a famous story – but, fortunately, one with a happy ending.
In 1996, 7-year-old Alexandre visited Shark Valley with his parents on a trip to Florida from their home country of Brazil.
The trio rented bikes and Alexandre, being a 7-year-old boy, tore off by himself down the path.
He rounded a corner at full speed, lost his balance…
and fell right on top of an alligator.
The alligator immediately grabbed him by the shoulder.
His parents, hearing his cry, lept into the water and pried the boy free.
Alexandre was rushed to the hospital where he was treated for puncture wounds to the shoulder and chest.
The boy made a full recovery three weeks later and went back to Brazil a celebrity.
But this event didn’t turn Alexandre off the Everglades.
No, he later moved to the United States and, according to park staff, continues to visit the Everglades each year.
So, if Shark Valley’s only alligator victim can brave the park’s gators, you can too!
10. Everglades Ecosystem Food Web
The Everglades food web is the key to the survival of all types of living organisms within the wetlands of south Florida.
A food web is a complex relationship that exists between bacteria, plants, insects, wading birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, and even extends to water and sunlight.
This relationship allows every living thing to survive and thrive.
Here’s a simplified version of how the food web in the Everglades works:
Sunlight and water allow for different types of vegetation to grow, both underwater and on land.
A group of animals, called primary consumers, feed off these plants (they typically consist of fish).
Another group of animals, called secondary consumers, feed off the primary consumers. This group mostly consists of birds.
A final group of animals – tertiary consumers – feed off the secondary consumers. These are large predators such as alligators, crocodiles, and panthers.
In the end, we have what is basically a circle of life.
It’s a beautiful machine that, if left alone, runs perfectly well.
However, food webs can be delicate.
One little thing can throw them out of balance.
That’s why it’s so important to remove invasive species of plants and animals that aren’t native to the Everglades.
If they are allowed to run loose, they could disrupt the natural food web and cause native species to die out.
If you’re a Florida resident or looking to become one, you must learn more about the Everglades ecosystem.
This incredible preserve is an integral component of the state’s history and the saving grace for many living organisms that would otherwise have gone extinct by now.
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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants, or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.