DURHAM, N.C. – Covering more than 4,300 square miles in Southern Florida, the Everglades are the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. In recognition of their unique ecological significance, they have been designated an International Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site, a National Park and a Wetland of International Importance.

But over the years, human development, agriculture and urban sprawl in and around the once-remote marshes and peatlands have contributed to radical changes in the Everglades’ water quality and water flow, and have had far-reaching impacts on their animal and plant populations.  

A new book by Curtis Richardson, director of the Duke University Wetland Center and professor of resource ecology at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, provides an insider’s view of how scientists have studied these changes and offers practicable insights from their research to aid in the restoration of this vast wetland.    

Encyclopedic in scope, “The Everglades Experiments: Lessons for Ecosystem Restoration,” brings together key findings from 14 years of experiments in the Everglades by the Duke Wetland Center and its partners. The 702-page book was published April 18 by Springer Press.

“The findings presented in this book are the result of extensive experimental research from 1989 to 2003 on the effects of water, nutrients and fire on the Everglades communities,” Richardson says. “It’s a synthesis of what we learned and how it can be applied to managing and restoring this irreplaceable resource.”

Written as a resource for scientists, land managers and ecologists alike, the volume presents new data which covers the structural and functional responses of the Everglades ecosystem via experimental and gradient studies on microbial activity, algal responses, macroinvertibrate populations, macrophyte populations, and productivity as a result of changes to soil and water nutrients, water flow and wildfire management.  Key findings are translated into potential restoration guidelines based on sound ecological principles.

Equally importantly, Richardson says, the book reclassifies the Everglades, provides a comparison of historic and current ecological processes, and presents a new working hydrologic paradigm for restoring Florida’s River of Grass and other similarly degraded peatland and wetland complexes.

“What we found can help answer key questions such as: What are the effects of increased nutrient and water inputs on the native plant and animal communities? What is the long-term nutrient storage capacity of the Everglades? How can water and fire management there be improved to maintain the natural communities?” he says.

In recognition of his pioneering work in wetland restoration, Richardson was awarded the Environmental Law Institute’s 2006 National Wetlands Award for Science Research. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Society of Wetland Scientists, and the Soil Science Society of America.