Date of this Version
This is a U.S. government work
Floristic quality assessments (FQA) using floristic quality indices (FQIs) are useful tools for assessing and comparing vegetation communities and related habitat condition. However, intensive vegetation surveys requiring significant time and technical expertise are necessary, which limits the use of FQIs in environmental monitoring programs. This study modified standard FQI methods to develop a rapid assessment method for characterizing and modeling change in wetland habitat condition in the northern Everglades. Method modifications include limiting vegetation surveys to a subset of taxa selected as indicators of impact and eliminating richness and/or abundance factors from the equation. These modifications reduce the amount of time required to complete surveys and minimizes misidentification of species, which can skew results. The habitat characterization and assessment tool (HCAT) developed here is a FQA that uses a modified FQI to detect and model changes in habitat condition based on vegetation communities, characterize levels of impact as high, moderate, or low, provide predictive capabilities for assessing natural resource management or water management operation alternatives, and uniquely links a FQI with readily accessible environmental data. For application in the northern Everglades, surface water phosphorus concentrations, specific conductivity, distance from canal, and days since dry (5-year average) explained 67% of the variability in the dataset with > 99.9% confidence. The HCAT approach can be used to monitor, assess, and evaluate habitats with the objective of informing management decisions (e.g., as a screening tool) to maximize conservation and restoration of protected areas and is transferable to other wetlands with additional modification.
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