Photographed by Bette Jackson
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Hi, I'm Dr. Jerry Jackson, out with the wild things. Water links creatures together in unique communities and ecosystems. While amount and quality of water are important, a major factor that determines community structure is sometimes called ‘hydroperiod’: the amount of time that land is covered with water. A walk along the boardwalk at Corkscrew Swamp Audubon Sanctuary in Collier County, Florida illustrates the importance of hydroperiod. The boardwalk begins in flatwoods dominated by slash pine and saw palmetto. Water rarely stands in the flatwoods because the ground is slightly higher than elsewhere and sandy soils drain quickly. The flatwoods end abruptly at a grassy prairie; it's grassy because it's lower and water stands in the prairie for weeks at a time. Pines and palmetto can't survive the flooding and fires from the flatwoods keep out bald cypress. Beyond the prairie, the boardwalk enters cypress swamp. Water stands for months, minimizing potential for fire and allowing growth of pond cypress. Farther into the swamp, hydroperiod is even longer and bald cypress reaches its greatest size. The biggest threats to the natural environments of South Florida today are drainage of wetlands and alteration of water flow, changes in hydroperiod that alter plant and animal communities.
'With the Wild Things' is produced at the Whitaker Center in the College of Arts and Sciences at Florida Gulf Coast University. For 'The Wild Things', I'm Dr. Jerry Jackson.