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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Ecosystem Restoration

Linking River, Floodplain, and Vadose Zone Hydrology to Improve Restoration of a Coastal River Affected by Saltwater Intrusion


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 39 No. 5, p. 1570-1584
    Received: Sept 23, 2009

    * Corresponding author(s): carpena@ufl.edu
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  1. D. Kaplana,
  2. R. Muñoz-Carpena *a,
  3. Y. Wanb,
  4. M. Hedgepethb,
  5. F. Zhengb,
  6. R. Robertsc and
  7. R. Rossmanith Servicec
  1. a Agricultural and Biological Engineering Dep., Univ. of Florida, 287 Frazier Rogers Hall, PO Box 110570, Gainesville, FL 32611-0570
    b Coastal Ecosystems Division, South Florida Water Management District, 3301 Gun Club Road, West Palm Beach, FL 33406
    c Florida Park Service, Dep. of Environmental Protection 13798 SE Federal Highway, Hobe Sound, FL 33455


Floodplain forests provide unique ecological structure and function, which are often degraded or lost when watershed hydrology is modified. Restoration of damaged ecosystems requires an understanding of surface water, groundwater, and vadose (unsaturated) zone hydrology in the floodplain. Soil moisture and porewater salinity are of particular importance for seed germination and seedling survival in systems affected by saltwater intrusion but are difficult to monitor and often overlooked. This study contributes to the understanding of floodplain hydrology in one of the last bald cypress [Taxodium distichum (L.) Rich.] floodplain swamps in southeast Florida. We investigated soil moisture and porewater salinity dynamics in the floodplain of the Loxahatchee River, where reduced freshwater flow has led to saltwater intrusion and a transition to salt-tolerant, mangrove-dominated communities. Twenty-four dielectric probes measuring soil moisture and porewater salinity every 30 min were installed along two transects—one in an upstream, freshwater location and one in a downstream tidal area. Complemented by surface water, groundwater, and meteorological data, these unique 4-yr datasets quantified the spatial variability and temporal dynamics of vadose zone hydrology. Results showed that soil moisture can be closely predicted based on river stage and topographic elevation (overall Nash–Sutcliffe coefficient of efficiency = 0.83). Porewater salinity rarely exceeded tolerance thresholds (0.3125 S m−1) for bald cypress upstream but did so in some downstream areas. This provided an explanation for observed vegetation changes that both surface water and groundwater salinity failed to explain. The results offer a methodological and analytical framework for floodplain monitoring in locations where restoration success depends on vadose zone hydrology and provide relationships for evaluating proposed restoration and management scenarios for the Loxahatchee River.

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Copyright © 2010. American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science SocietyAmerican Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America