Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce

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"Understanding a Biodiverse World"


Benthic Ecology of the Indian River Lagoon


The Benthic Ecology Program is a long-term study focused on the benthic invertebrates of the Indian River Lagoon. Benthic refers to organisms found on, among, or within the sediment, bottom, or “benthos”. Since 2005, the lab has been collecting benthic samples quarterly at 15 discrete sites within the Southern Indian River Lagoon and St. Lucie Estuary. These samples are then sieved, preserved, and benthic invertebrates are sorted out under a microscope, counted, and identified to the lowest possible taxon. By determining the biodiversity at each site, the lab can make inferences on the environmental health of the sites and see if they are changing over time.

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invertgifWhy Benthic Invertebrates?

The small organisms found in the muck or sand of the Indian River Lagoon can actually help show and predict larger environmental trends within the IRL due to their following qualities:

  • Their relatively sedentary lifestyle. While larger organisms, like fish or manatees, can move away from disturbances, benthic organisms cannot move as quickly and are effected by disturbances, such as salinity shifts or pollution, on a shorted timescale
  • Relatively easy to sample, identify, and enumerate
  • They respond quickly to environmental changes such as changes in salinity, temperature, or clarity
  • Intermediate trophic position & diverse life history strategies


This long-term monitoring project was started in February 2005 with funding from the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). CERP “provides a framework and guide to restore, protect, and preserve the water resources of central and southern Florida, including the Everglades”. In the 1950’s, the Army Corps of Engineers altered the waterflow of central and southern Florida to prevent flooding and make land available for the growing population. The water that once drained south into the Everglades¬†


historic flow
Historic Everglades Flow
Current Everglades Flow
Future Everglades Flow







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