The Everglades in southern Florida, U.S.A., is a major focus of conservation activities. The freshwater wetlands of the Everglades do not have high species richness, and no species of threatened aquatic animals or plants live there. We have, however, identified a distinctive ecological feature of the Everglades that is threatened by canal construction, draining, and nutrient enrichment from agricultural runoff compared to values reported from other freshwater systems, standing stocks of periphyton in relatively undisturbed areas of the Everglades were unusually high, and standing stocks of invertebrates and fish were unusually low. Averaging data gathered from nine sites and five sampling periods spanning I year, we found that periphyton standing crop was 88.2 g/m2 (ash-free dry mass), invertebrate standing stock was 0.64 g/m2 (dry mass), and fish standing stock was 1.2 g/m2 (dry mass of large and small species combined). We found that fish standing stocks were much higher in phosphorus-enriched sites than in nearby reference sites but that invertebrate standing stocks were similar in enriched and reference sites. Our results support the notion that oligotrophy is at least partially responsible for the low standing stocks of fish, but they also suggest that species interactions and a paucity of deep-water refugia are important. Anthropogenic eutrophication in Everglades marshes will lead to the loss of distinctive ecosystem features. A focus on species richness and 'hot spots' of threatened species provides no basis for conservation of ecosystems like the Everglades. If oligotrophic ecosystems often have low species richness, they will be underrepresented in preservation networks based on some common criteria for establishing conservation priorities.
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Targeting ecosystem features for conservation: Standing crops in the Florida Everglades