Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge
Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge
The Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge encompasses more than 147,000 acres of remnant northern Everglades habitat, including wet prairie, slough, sawgrass marsh, and thousands of tree islands. An Audubon Important Bird Area, Loxahatchee Refuge is home to more than 270 bird species.
Exotic plants are the second greatest threat to biodiversity in Florida after habitat development. Almost a third of the plants found in South Florida are exotic, mostly introduced by the nursery trade. Each year, $75 million is spent in South Florida alone to control invasive pest plants.
Melaleuca and Old World climbing fern infest more than 80 percent of the habitat area within Loxahatchee Refuge. At 100,000 acres, it is the worst infestation of these invasive plants in southern Florida. Melaleuca trees grow rapidly, produce tremendous quantities of seeds, and eventually form dense forests that alter native plant community composition and structure, and degrade and destroy bird and wildlife habitat. Melaleuca also uses more water than native Everglades vegetation, which can dry out native wetlands. Similarly, Old World climbing fern grows and spreads rapidly by producing millions of spores that are easily transported by winds, wildfires, and wildlife. The resulting invasive weeds smother native vegetation and deprive it of sunlight. Melaleuca and Old World climbing fern are estimated to be spreading at the alarming rate of 10 and 18 acres per day across south Florida, respectively.
Threat to Birds
Invasive species on Loxahatchee Refuge affect threatened and endangered species such as the Wood Stork and the Snail Kite by destroying nesting habitat and reducing forage for prey species. The Wood Stork and the Snail Kite are state and federally listed as endangered mainly due to destruction and drainage of their wetland habitats. Melaleuca directly threatens both species by degrading and destroying the wet prairies and sloughs that are the birds' preferred feeding locations. Old World climbing fern is rapidly invading and colonizing tree islands, the preferred nesting habitat of the endangered Wood Stork. The Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge encompasses more than 147,000 acres of remnant northern Everglades habitat, including wet prairie, slough, sawgrass marsh, and thousands of tree islands.