Calcareous floating periphyton mats in the southern Everglades provide habitat for a diverse macroinvertebrate community that has not been well characterized. Our study described this community in an oligotrophic marsh, compared it with the macroinvertebrate community associated with adjacent epiphytic algae attached to macrophytes in the water column, and detected spatial patterns in density and community structure. The floating periphyton mat (floating mat) and epiphytic algae in the water column (submerged epiphyton) were sampled at 4 sites (∼1 km apart) in northern Shark River Slough, Everglades National Park (ENP), in the early (July) and late (November) wet season. Two perpendicular 90-m transects were established at each site and ∼100 samples were taken in a nested design. Sites were located in wet-prairie spikerush-dominated sloughs with similar water depths and emergent macrophyte communities. Floating mats were sampled by taking cores (6-cm diameter) that were sorted under magnification to enumerate infauna retained on a 250-μm-mesh sieve and with a maximum dimension >1 mm. Our results showed that floating mats provide habitat for a macroinvertebrate community with higher densities (no. animals/g ash-free dry mass) of Hyalella azteca, Dasyhelea spp., and Cladocera, and lower densities of Chironomidae and Planorbella spp. than communities associated with submerged epiphyton. Densities of the most common taxa increased 3× to 15× from early to late wet season, and community differences between the 2 habitat types became more pronounced. Floating-mat coverage and estimated floating-mat biomass increased 20 to 30% and 30 to 110%, respectively, at most sites in the late wet season. Some intersite variation was observed in individual taxa, but no consistent spatial pattern in any taxon was detected at any scale (from 0.2 m to 3 km). Floating mats and their resident macroinvertebrate communities are important components in the Everglades food web. This community should be included in environmental monitoring programs because degradation and eventual loss of the calcareous periphyton mat is associated with P enrichment in this ecosystem.
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