Overview of Gradient Studies and Experiments

  • Curtis J. Richardson
Part of the Ecological Studies book series (ECOLSTUD, volume 201)

Marjory Stoneman Douglas captured the public imagination with the simple but illustrative statement, “It is a river of grass.” Her seminal 1947 book The Everglades: River of Grass focused the world’s attention on the ecosystem and the dangers it faced from human encroachment with that image. Those words saved the Everglades from total destruction. But scientifically the Everglades is not a river of grass; rather, the Everglades is a fen – an alkaline peatland that is one of the great wonders of the world.

The distance between these two characterizations did not seem large in the middle of the twentieth century, but today it is a chasm with potentially disastrous consequences. The Army Corps of Engineers Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP 1998, 2005) is a proposal to pump or flow massive amounts of water into the Everglades while creating 87,668 ha of storage reservoirs. One could argue that the Corps’ literal acceptance of the scientifically incorrect “river of grass” metaphor has set us off on a path that will not restore the historic Everglades but replace it with a totally managed marsh ecosystem that no longer hydrologically or ecologically functions as a rainfall-driven peatland ecosystem (see Chap. 2 for a full discussion of peatland hydrodynamics and a scientifically based classification of the Everglades). That is not to say that the hundreds of dedicated scientists, engineers, and water managers who are working tirelessly on Everglades restoration under CERP have not made great progress; they have. However, their work has become even more difficult as the rapidly expanding human population and agricultural activity make ever-increasing water demands on the presently diked and channelized Everglades landscape (see Plate 1). Nevertheless, the question that scientists and policy makers working toward a true restoration of the Everglades must ask is whether CERP is based on sound ecological principles and an understanding of the range of peatland ecosystem processes that need to be restored.


Tree Island Alternative Stable State Everglades National Park South Florida Water Management District Hydrologic Gradient 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Curtis J. Richardson
    • 1
  1. 1.Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth SciencesDuke University Wetland CenterDurhamUSA

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