Aquatic fauna as indicators for Everglades restoration: Applying dynamic targets in assessments
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AbstractA major goal of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) is to recover historical (pre-drainage) wading bird rookeries and reverse marked decreases in wading bird nesting success in Everglades National Park. To assess efforts to restore wading birds, a trophic hypothesis was developed that proposes seasonal concentrations of small-fish and crustaceans (i.e., wading bird prey) were a key factor to historical wading bird success. Drainage of the Everglades has diminished these seasonal concentrations, leading to a decline in wading bird nesting and displacing them from their historical nesting locations. The trophic hypothesis predicts that restoring historical hydrological patterns to pre-drainage conditions will recover the timing and location of seasonally concentrated prey, ultimately restoring wading bird nesting and foraging to the southern Everglades. We identified a set of indicators using small-fish and crustaceans that can be predicted from hydrological targets and used to assess management success in regaining suitable wading bird foraging habitat. Small-fish and crustaceans are key components of the Everglades food web and are sensitive to hydrological management, track hydrological history with little time lag, and can be studied at the landscape scale. The seasonal hydrological variation of the Everglades that creates prey concentrations presents a challenge to interpreting monitoring data. To account for the variable hydrology of the Everglades in our assessment, we developed dynamic hydrological targets that respond to changes in prevailing regional rainfall. We also derived statistical relationships between density and hydrological drivers for species representing four different life-history responses to drought. Finally, we use these statistical relationships and hydrological targets to set restoration targets for prey density. We also describe a report-card methodology to communicate the results of model-based assessments for communication to a broad audience.