Florida Keys Sea Level Rise

A recent study led by SEAS researcher Michael Ross shows that the combination of sea level rise and major disturbances like hurricanes present an imminent threat to the plants and animals living on low-lying islands, including the Florida Keys. These islands often are home to species that are found nowhere else on earth and depend on freshwater. It was once thought that because sea level rise occurs slowly the change in species also would take generations to occur. FIU researchers found that even though the Florida Keys have experienced a centuries-long shift from pine forests and freshwater wetlands to saltwater-tolerant mangroves, a single storm surge event, like the 6 foot surge produced by Hurricane Wilma, can cause a sudden shift from pines to mangroves. Because endangered species like the Key Deer and Keys marsh rabbit depend on pine forests and freshwater wetlands, managers must protect areas least likely to be affected by sudden changes in response to storms and must make plans in case their habitats disappear entirely.