Spatially Narrow Wet Prairies


Andre F. Clewell

Additional Authors:

Christina Raymond, C.L. Coultas, W. Michael Dennis, James P. Kelly,


June 2009


ABSTRACT Wet prairies in the Southeast consist of floristically diverse grass-sedge ecosystems that are conspicuously lacking in woody species because of seasonal soil saturation and frequent fire. They occupy a landscape position between mesic, pyrogenic pine savannas and hydric swamps and marshes. Wet prairies are recognized wherever they occur on broad expanses of land; however, many go unrecognized or are mistaken for ecotones where they occupy strips of land that narrowly separate pine savannas from more deeply inundated wetlands. Such spatially narrow wet prairie in west-central Florida was characterized in terms of its plant species composition and abundance, soils, and elevations relative to the sawpalmetto line (border with pine savanna), the cypress strand line (border with deeper wetlands), lichen line (maximum inundation following major storm events), and taper points on cypress buttresses (wet season normal pool). Wet prairie ranged horizontally from 1.5 to 30 m wide (mean 12.7 6 3.9 m) and vertically up to 24 cm in elevation (mean 13 6 6.7 cm) relative to its cypress strand line and saw palmetto line, respectively. The mean elevation of taper points varied from place to place from 3 to 15 cm above the saw palmetto line, indicating shallow wet-seasonal inundation. Soils were mostly hydric (71%), level, very poorly drained, sandy, and contained a spodic horizon. The wet prairie plant community was characterized by 97 species (25 grasses, 16 sedges, 51 forbs, and 5 shrubs—all Hypericum spp.) of which 76 species were K-strategists and 21 r-strategists. The mean number of species per m2 was 12.3 6 3.3.