Flood and fire adapted

Not just a watershed and not just fire adapted, every square inch of the swamp is flood AND fire adapted. So goes flood and fire, so goes the swamp. Cypress domes | Strands and sloughsSwamp mosaic?Flood and fire | Marl Prairies | UplandsBotany | Alligators and more | Life cycle of a pond apple | mangroves

water table

Rainy season begins on a dry note
As usual (and despite the April rains)

The start of one season …

Usually means the end of the season that came before.

History of drought in Big Cypress Nat’l Preserve

Well, hold your horses. While Memorial Day Weekend does mark the unofficial start of south Florida’s summer wet season, and to be sure from this point on we can expect the regular build up of afternoon clouds and thunderstorms — it may take a few couple weeks before the swamp starts filling up, or it could happen in a day. Until that time and until that day, the swamp is still in a state of drought. Not as deep as last year. But as you can see on the hydrograph above, it wasn’t until early June that the water table bottomed out. June is soaking in and filling up month. What we do know is that probably by July and definitely by August the swamp will get its water back.

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Meteorological Proverb: “All droughts end in flood”

Flood and fire friendly
A swamp love affair

The swamp is more than …

Just a watershed or just fire adapted:


Report on the history of flood and fire in the swamp

It’s more properly understood as being a “flood and fire adapted” ecosystem. Every square inch of flora and fauna depends on some goldilocks dosage and return interval of flood and fire. Or in other words, so goes flood and fire, so goes the swamp. Well, easier said than done. The truth is that both are blunt tool instruments that have a time lag of ecological responses, some of which we see happening in months or years, and others that take decades to unfold. The thing about the swamp: It’s malleable, too. Destroyers in other landscapes, flood and fire are a swamp’s best friend. This report discusses the history of water and fire management in Big Cypress National Preserve, how it’s changed over time and other factors that weave into the fire-water mix.

More about the report: I tried to make it coffee table friendly. I always say, “there’s nothing more complicated than water in the swamp, with the exception of fire. But somehow by combining the two we simplify the math.”


Wading bird delight
Why wading birds love fire

By definition …

Wading birds love water.

Video filmed along scenic Tamiami Trail

But in addition to wading through the shallow swamp, could they just as much (if not more) like the fire, too? Evidence from a recent prescribed burn says “yes.” The reason? My first guess was that the egrets were sick of sushi and wanted some charbroiled (or flash cooked) fish. But after further inquiry with a biologist, they suggested the birds were flocking to the higher visibility afforded by the charred landscape. Or in other words, it helped them see the water better, and the critters they were foraging for.

In a nutshell, the swamp is a flood and fire adapted ecosystem in which every square inch of flora and fauna depends on a goldilocks dosage and return interval of water and fire. So goes flood and fire, so goes the swamp — and the wading birds.

flood and fire

Water and fire
On the same day

If you ask the swamp point blank:

“What’s your preference — water or fire?”

Water in the swamp

Fire in the swamp

Not that the swamp’s greedy, but it will say “both.” The swamp, you see, is a flood and fire adapted ecosystem. Every square inch of flora and fauna depends on a goldilocks dosage and return interval of flood and fire on the landscape. Just as important is the balance between the two. Preferred patchy burns result when the water table is close to the surface and water is still ponding in the lowest spots. And water needs fire to open up foraging grounds for wading birds to opportunistically exploit. Getting the fire right means getting the water right and getting the fire and water right means getting the ecosystem right.