Rivers span the boundaries between terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems. Thus, alteration of river flow regimes can have profound effects on aquatic organisms, both within river basins and within estuarine and nearshore and offshore marine systems. The effects of altered river flow interact with other sources of anthropogenic stress and environmental degradation. Further, they are embedded within larger regional and global changes, such as atmospheric deposition of pollutants and sea-level rise, that are expected to further change the hydrologic cycle and the nature of interactions at the land-sea interface.
The Watershed Research team represents an interdisciplinary program focused on watershed linkages to fishery production and ecosystem health in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico that will inform natural resource policies spanning ecological, social, and jurisdictional boundaries. The research is designed to increase our understanding of linkages between coastal watersheds and the marine environment and lead to an increased capacity to forecast the ecosystem responses to anthropogenic stressors and serve as the basis for an ecosystem-based management approach.
The Apalachicola Watershed
The Apalachicola River is the largest river in Florida, and the second largest river entering the Gulf of Mexico, providing 35% of the freshwater input to the northeastern Gulf of Mexico. The Apalachicola together with the adjoining Chatahoochee and Flint Rivers (ACF) comprise a drainage system encompassing approximately 50,000 km2 of southern Georgia , eastern Alabama and northern Florida and emptying into the NEGoM through Apalachicola Bay. The ACF basin is considered a biodiversity hotspot and harbors one of the highest concentrations of threatened and endangered species in the United States. Apalachicola Bay is one of the more productive estuaries in North America, supplying approximately 90% of the oysters in Florida and 10% nationally, and is an important nursery ground for numerous commercially - and recreationally - important fish and invertebrate species.
The adjacent west Florida shelf, extending along the length of the Florida peninsula and the panhandle, comprises 75% of the total U.S. Gulf continental shelf and contains some of the most diverse and economically-important marine habitats (e.g., seagrass meadows, coral reefs) and fisheries (e.g., groupers) in the nation. Despite its great importance to Gulf state economies, there have been relatively few studies of how variation in river flow influences ecologically- and economically-important species in Apalachicola Bay. In addition, there have been no integrated studies of how production on the west Florida shelf is influenced by the Apalachicola River drainage system.