Category Archives: Freshwater Plant Research

National Rivers and Streams Assessment

By Jamie Richardson

From the vast blackwaters of the Suwannee River to a braided creek in Pensacola to a pin-straight residential canal in the greater Miami area, our NRSA crew has been everywhere, man (cue Johnny Cash). For three months, personnel of the Freshwater Plants Research Program travelled all over Florida to sample a variety of unique ecosystems using multiple standardized sampling techniques. For shallow systems, like Pole Branch Creek in rural Calhoun County, our team of 5-7 samplers packed in all our gear and our backpack electrofishing unit and waded through the sites to complete our surveys. But for deeper and wider systems like the extensive Kissimmee River, we conducted our surveys via two boats loaded down with sampling equipment – one for our habitat crew, the other for our fish crew. On every system we recorded observations about habitat type and condition of the banks. We used specialized equipment and techniques to evaluate characteristics like slope, discharge and fish community assemblage. We also collected samples of water, algae, benthic macroinvertebrates, and fish tissue. All samples and data were recorded and sent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for analysis.

The National Rivers and Streams Assessment (NRSA) is a nationwide survey designed by the EPA that takes place in all lower 48 states. Rivers, streams and canals all over the country have been randomly selected for sampling. The resulting data provide an unbiased representation of our nation’s flowing waterways for comparing these systems with others in their region. This is part of a major ongoing effort by the EPA called the National Aquatic Resource Surveys. The purpose of these surveys is to assess the conditions of our nation’s waterbodies and to track them over time. NRSA is just one aspect of the big picture and takes place over two consecutive summers, occurring every 5 years. This season was the first of their 2018-19 sampling event.

As our season is wrapping up, we proudly look back at all we have learned, experienced, and accomplished this summer. This project has provided us the opportunity to use new tools and techniques, such as densiometers to measure canopy coverage and stadia rods or sonar to document channel depths and substrate type along thalwegs. It has also encouraged us to connect with other FWC offices, Water Management District personnel, and local land owners or managers. With the help of their local knowledge and expertise we have successfully completed half of the selected survey sites during this first year. We look forward to continuing this work next summer as we prepare to tackle the rest of our sites which include larger river ecosystems such as the Escambia and Apalachicola Rivers.

Our NRSA Sampling Crew included: Jamie Richardson, Kyle Miller, Emily McPartlin, Amanda Christensen (volunteer), Greg Knothe, Siobhan Gorham, & Craig Mallison. A special thanks to: Travis Tuten, John Knight, Kate Harriger, Chelsea Myles-McBurney, Kayla Smith, & Jason O’Connor for their assistance.

Assessing Vegetation at Blue Spring State Park

by Craig Mallison and Siobhan Gorham

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Aquatic habitat types, aerial herbicide treatment areas, and study plots in the lagoon and marsh at Blue Spring State Park, October 2014.

Blue Spring State Park in Volusia County has been open to the public as a state park since 1972 and includes Blue Spring, the largest single spring on the St. Johns River system. In addition to the spring, the park encompasses a spring run and a lagoon with an adjacent marsh. Due to extended drought, infrequent fire, and fluctuating water levels, the marsh habitat has degraded over time with advancement of woody vegetation including willow, red maple, and buttonbush. The Aquatic Habitat Restoration and Enhancement Section (AHRE), within FWC’s Division of Habitat and Species Conservation, teamed with the Florida Department of Natural Resources to initiate a project to control the encroaching woody plants and restore herbaceous marsh habitat. They contacted the Freshwater Plants Research project to evaluate the effectiveness of herbicide treatments and prescribed fire in restoring quality habitat in the marsh.

We will compare composition of woody vegetation and herbaceous marsh in treated areas and non-treated (control) areas over time. Pre-treatment sampling and aerial herbicide treatments were completed in October 2014. We used aerial photography, acquired by AHRE, along with field survey data to map the plant communities within the entire study area. We established three one-acre sampling plots within each treatment group. Initial results documented 80 percent coverage of woody vegetation and 20 percent coverage of herbaceous marsh within treated and control plots. Sampling will be completed annually for three years to evaluate changes in community composition. The management objectives of the herbicide treatment are to reduce woody vegetation by 70 percent and to increase herbaceous marsh by 50 percent. This would establish plant communities that can be maintained with a prescribed fire regime to sustain quality freshwater marsh habitat into the future.