DATE: June 09, 2009
William Conner, 843-546-6323
Peter Hull, 843-554-7226, ext. 118
Clemson University scientist has role restoring part of vital ecosystem
GEORGETOWN — A Clemson University scientist at the Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science is playing a key role in the restoration of one of America’s most important and famous natural wonders.
William Conner, a professor of forestry and natural resources, was invited by the South Florida Water Management District to participate in a workshop that examined restoration of the “ghost” tree islands of the Florida Everglades.
The May workshop at Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge northwest of Boca Raton brought together district, academic and government scientists, some of whom had not before worked in the Everglades, in an effort to encourage new perspectives and approaches.
The workshop laid the groundwork for the district to establish research priorities for restoration of the islands.
The thousands of tree islands throughout the vast area from Lake Okeechobee to the southern tip of Florida are considered key indicators of the health of the Everglades ecosystem, in large part because of their sensitivity to flooding and drought.
The islands also act as a sink for nutrients in the ecosystem and may play an important role in regulating nutrients. Tree varieties on the islands include cypress, willow and the unusually named gumbo limbo tree.
The trees died because the areas either were flooded and they stood in too much water too long or they were drained of water. Consequently, the trees look like they were struck by lightning.
“They’re just skeletal stems sticking up in the air,” Conner said. Hence the term “ghost” trees.
Although these biodiversity hotspots are important to the survival of many plants and animals in the Everglades, most of them have been lost as a result of poor water management. Restoration of tree islands is fundamental to the success of a broader Everglades restoration plan, Conner said.
The team’s discussions included ideas to make new trees grow on the islands, areas that most likely can be restored and the varieties that can be planted.
The group’s initial findings are expected to be published in July.
On the Web
Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science: http://www.clemson.edu/public/rec/baruch/.