Anthropogenic habitat alterations and water-management practices have imposed an artificial spatial scale onto the once contiguous freshwater marshes of the Florida Everglades. To gain insight into how these changes may affect biotic communities, we examined whether variation in the abundance and community structure of large fishes (SL > 8 cm) in Everglades marshes varied more at regional or intra-regional scales, and whether this variation was related to hydroperiod, water depth, floating mat volume, and vegetation density. From October 1997 to October 2002, we used an airboat electrofisher to sample large fishes at sites within three regions of the Everglades. Each of these regions is subject to unique water-management schedules. Dry-down events (water depth < 10 cm) occurred at several sites during spring in 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002. The 2001 dry-down event was the most severe and widespread. Abundance of several fishes decreased significantly through time, and the number of days post-dry-down covaried significantly with abundance for several species. Processes operating at the regional scale appear to play important roles in regulating large fishes. The most pronounced patterns in abundance and community structure occurred at the regional scale, and the effect size for region was greater than the effect size for sites nested within region for abundance of all species combined, all predators combined, and each of the seven most abundant species. Non-metric multi-dimensional scaling revealed distinct groupings of sites corresponding to the three regions. We also found significant variation in community structure through time that correlated with the number of days post-dry-down. Our results suggest that hydroperiod and water management at the regional scale influence large fish communities of Everglades marshes.
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Vol. 24 • No. 3