GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Stormwater ponds are prevalent throughout Florida’s urban and residential landscapes, but University of Florida researchers are looking into whether these engineered ecosystems support the spread of invasive plant species.
An ongoing UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Interdisciplinary Research on Invasive Species (IRIS) grant-funded project set out to examine the ecosystems within and surrounding stormwater ponds. Researchers say the data collected have indicated the presence of invasive plant species in 96% of the 30 ponds studied, and these findings could inform future construction and management of stormwater ponds.
The project, led by Basil Iannone, an assistant professor in the UF/IFAS School of Forest Resources and Conservation, investigates how many invasive plants are present within stormwater ponds, and how pond management and nutrients present in stormwater ponds’ water and soil act as potential drivers of plant invasions. James Sinclair, a postdoctoral researcher in the School of Forest Resources and Conservation, led research efforts, and other principal investigators on the project are Carrie Adams, an associate professor in the UF/IFAS environmental horticulture department; Eban Bean, an assistant professor in the UF/IFAS agricultural and biological engineering department; and AJ Reisinger, a UF/IFAS assistant professor in the soil and water sciences department.
The 15 wet ponds and 15 dry ponds under observation throughout Gainesville were further categorized into degrees of management: low, medium and high. A low-maintenance pond is never mowed, medium-maintenance may be mowed occasionally, and a high-maintenance pond is regularly mowed and beautified for residential landscapes.
“There is considerable variability among ponds, even within treatment levels, in the invasive plants that they harbor,” Iannone said. “We learned that most of the plants – 77% – were introduced as ornamental species and that many of those are still commercially available.”
Although the field work was conducted in Gainesville, a portion of the project, led by Bean, created a geospatial inventory of stormwater ponds throughout the state of Florida, identifying more than 70,000 stormwater ponds statewide.
“The results have much broader implications,” Reisinger said. “Despite their prevalence on the landscape, there is very little known about the ecology of stormwater pond ecosystems.”
The statewide map of stormwater ponds made evident their common use in urban and residential areas, Iannone noted, as well as along roads connecting those areas. This “interesting spatial pattern,” he said, may be important when considering the future of stormwater pond construction and management.
“Given the ubiquity of these engineered ecosystems, I am wondering if we can utilize them as tools for conservation in urban and urbanizing landscapes,” Iannone said.
The data collection for the project is largely complete, according to Iannone, and he expects findings to be published in the next few months. “That being said,” he added, “we are hoping the project continues for some time.”
The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS website at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.