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Florida Palms Dying from Sea Level Rise


GAINESVILLE, Florida, Oct. 15, 1999 (ENS) - Researchers have found evidence that rising global sea levels are killing coastal trees in Florida. But in a study published in the journal "Ecology," a team University of Florida (UF) and U.S. Geological Survey scientists concludes that cabbage palms and many other coastal trees are falling victim to saltwater exposure.

Sea levels worldwide are rising an average of about 1.5 millimeters (.06 inches) each year. Small increases in sea level can affect large areas of Florida’s flat coastline, in part because development and farms keep forests from growing on higher ground further inland, the researchers say. "What this does for me is bring home the global problem of sea level rise," said Francis Putz, a UF professor who worked on the project.

The research team started the project seven years ago, creating test plots on forested islands at different elevations. They tagged and counted all the trees and seedlings in each plot and monitored groundwater salinity and tidal flooding. Many trees died by the end of the field research. Although some of the deaths were attributed to a 1993 storm, some occurred before the storm.

"Trees died during the course of the study in several island plots, changing community composition ... Southern red cedars were lost from two of the four most frequently flooded stands, leaving cabbage palms as the only tree species in three plots," the study said.

Even when older trees and palms survived, they often failed to produce new seedlings, making them the last generation of trees on the islands.