“It is the best example of an old-growth floodplain forest that still exists in United States. Understanding the relationship of the river and its flooding to the park’s wildlife and vegetation is important to ensuring the long term health of the park. ”
The park’s complex ecosystem is home to a wide variety of plants and animals. Species more sensitive to river flow and the spread of water across the land provide good indicators of how change in climate can impact the flora and fauna of the forest floodplain.
Based on previous research, the USC team identified 12 species representative of the flora and fauna in the floodplain that rely on and are sensitive to a variety of different river flow and flooding conditions. These include a variety of birds, fish, mussels, trees, mammals and amphibians.
Among the most visible is the bald cypress, the iconic tree most associated with the park, characterized by a wide-buttressed trunk and an abundance of woody “knees” that protrude upward from the swampy mud.
“The bald cypress makes use of both low and high ranges of flow conditions,” said Meitzen, who is surveying the forest species and conducting the flood inundation mapping and modeling for the park. “Germination and growth require drought conditions, while its continued growth requires seasonal flood. These trees are slow growers, some may be as old as 500 to 1,000 years, and they propagate only when ideal conditions are met.”
Meitzen said the bald cypress and the swamp tupelo, another tree common the park, thrive in sloughs (pronounced slews) and depend on high-water conditions for dispersing their fruits and seeds. Both trees are good species for tracking forest responses to climate-driven changes in river flow, she said.