The Everglades is a two million acre wetland ecosystem. The Everglades reaches from central Florida, near Orlando, all the way south to Florida Bay (National Wildlife Federation, 1996-2013). During the wet season, Lake Okeechobee overflows, releasing water into a slow moving, shallow river. The river is mostly saw-grass marsh. The Everglades is an ecosystem that hosts a large diversity of habitats connected by wetlands and water bodies. Human actions have been altering the Everglades landscape through water diversions and flood control projects, and agricultural and urban development. How this affects the evolution of its wild life habitats and their survival techniques through adaptation and natural selection will be important. Food Chain Consumers
The Everglades is an ecosystem abundant with consumers: organisms that acquire nourishment via the consumption of other living organisms (Abeton, n. d.). Primary consumers that are herbivores, like the marsh rabbit, eat producers available in the Everglades habitat (Abeton, n. d.). Primary consumers that are carnivores include the brown pelican, Florida panther, and crocodile. There are also many tertiary consumers in the Everglades ecosystem like the bald eagle and the Florida black bear. This type of consumer exists mainly on secondary consumers (Abeton, n. d.) Many food chains are present in the ecosystem of the Everglades. Omnivores, like the Florida black bear, eat saw palmetto, acorns, berries, fish, and honey. Black bears adapt to the ecosystem by using a variety of plants and animals to obtain their sustenance and protein.
Crocodiles are at the top of the food chain in the Everglades. According to “ American Crocodile: Species Profile” (n. d..), “ A crocodile will eat almost anything that moves. Hatchlings and young crocodiles eat small fish, snails, crustaceans, and insects. Adults feed mostly at night on fish, crabs, turtles, snakes, and small mammals.” (p. 2). The crocodile uses stealth and superb hunting skills to engage in successful predation in the Everglades environment. The brown pelican is also a consumer in the Everglades habitat that subsists on tadpoles, small fish, pink shrimp, and insects. Crocodiles and alligators will consume brown pelicans. Pink shrimp consume algae and plankton available in the salt-water marsh and wetlands. Shrimp feed turtles, alligators, brown pelicans, snakes, and Atlantic Sturgeon. On the top of the Everglades’ food chain are both the crocodile and alligator. Both species are part of the same family, crocodilian. A major organ that is involved in the evolution of the changing habitat of the crocodilian is the heart. The heart of the crocodilian is the most advanced heart of all vertebrates.
The heart has four chambers, much like humans, that are utilized in a complimentary way to circulate well-oxygenated blood to the heart and rest of its body. This special feature facilitates conservation of high oxygen supply for underwater breathing during hunt of its prey (Grigg & Grans, 1993). Although not considered a predator, the marsh rabbit is important to the Everglades’ ecosystem food chain. The rabbit’s heart is smaller in comparison to other species. A smaller rabbit’s heart rate is faster than rabbits that are larger in size (Wissman, 2006). Even more interesting is how rabbits are more capable of digesting food in their stomach in what otherwise other animals, like dogs and cats, cannot digest. This allows rabbits to be more geographically stable in the world environment. This specialized digestive system is often referred to as hind gut fermentation, which allows an excess amount of fiber into the system (Isbell & Pavia, 2009).
Population Growth and regulation through community interaction A century ago, the everglades were not appropriate for civilization because of frequent flooding and fires and swamp, which harbor plenty of mosquitoes. The year round warm weather and need of land for cultivation attracted human settlement and resulting further developments in the South Florida along the natural Everglades region. Increased population densities in the 1900s required construction of drainage activities to convert the wet-land for cultivation, agricultural expansion, and coastal railroad construction along with other economic activities, which altered the dynamics of the natural Everglades ecosystem (Solecki et al., 1999). Within half a century, more than half of the wet land was transformed into agriculture and urban use. The most community interactions that affect the Everglades ecosystem include land use, direct utilization, external inputs, and resource competition (Solecki et al., 1999).
Land conversion for human settlement is the permanent and irreversible effect on natural landscape caused by community interaction. Many species lost their habitat because of the difficulty in adaptation to the human dominant environment. Major threats to the species in the Everglades comes from direct utilization of resources by the community, for example, hunting, fishing, harvesting, and recreational activities that interfere with the natural habitat of swamp species. The modern societal use of motorized boats during recreation scares and kills the manatees cruising near the surface of the water. Another factor, which affects the population growth of the Everglades ecosystem, is the competition for the same resources between human sector and natural sector. Draining of water to form dry land for human settlement conflict with the water dependent species of Everglades and that threatened the ecosystem. Impact of Man-made Pollutions on Everglades
The human behaviors and actions strongly influence the existence of ecosystems. Pollution and fire caused by human activities grossly impact the structure of the ecosystem. Other visible manmade factors includes introduction of non-native species, disruptive water management actions, and the disturbance of natural processes have undermined the integrity of the Everglades ecosystem (National Park Service, 2013). In addition to the above-mentioned direct pollution, human cause secondary pollution through generating poor air quality to this ecosystem. Everglades surrounded by high industrialized and high-populated human settlements send high concentrations of airborne pollutants through air are deposited by rain on park soil and water.
For example, pollutants like mercury emit from power plants and waste incinerators enter the food chain as top predators feed on contaminated prey and cause biological degradation of ecosystems (National Park Service, 2013). Furthermore, toxic chemicals, such as nitrogen and sulfur compounds from the neighboring farms sweep into the wetland and destroy the fisheries and wildlife. Introduction of nonnative plants, such as Australian Pine and animals, such as Burmese Python by humans for decorative and domestic use cause habitat transformation and damage to the natural ecosystem (Solecki et al., 1999).
A need for a Biosphere Reserve to preserve the natural ecosystem through land reservation for natural habitat, resource utilization through instilling environmental ethics to the community is warranted, and thus reduces or limits the effect of community interactions on the ecosystem. A vigorous and concentrated initiative for environmental protection is necessary to preserve the remaining Everglades and its natural habitat. The need for environmental awareness cannot be stressed any better for the restoration of natural resources and facilitate the flow of energy among the organisms of this special ecosystem. Preserve the nature and save the earth.
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