Florida | Florida Agricultural Experiment Station | Southern Region
Increased algae growth in some Florida springs may be partly due to declining populations of algae-eating snails, says UF/IFAS researcher.
Water covers 70 percent of the Earth's surface, but more than 96 percent of it is salt water that cannot be used for drinking or irrigation; only 1.3 percent is surface water, the main source for human use. Florida is not only surrounded on three sides by 825 miles of sandy coastline – more than any other state in the contiguous United States – it also has one of the largest concentrations of freshwater springs on Earth, with more than 700 named springs bubbling up in the state’s interior from the Floridan aquifer. In addition, the Florida Everglades is one of the most unique ecosystems in the world – there is nothing else like this River of Grass. Florida has 29 major watersheds, each defined by rivers, streams, springs, lakes, canals, wetlands, bays and other water features. The state’s water travels to the Gulf of Mexico, Florida Bay or the Atlantic Ocean and is vulnerable to pollutants from stormwater runoff, faulty septic systems, wastewater and industrial discharges and other sources. UF/IFAS is the state’s leading institution in water research, conservation and education, and is at the forefront of studying and protecting our water systems.
North Florida has one of the world’s highest concentrations of freshwater springs, but today many of them suffer from excessive algae growth. Scientists often place the blame on the consequences of human activity, particularly nitrate, a compound associated with fertilizer runoff. However, a UF/IFAS research team that includes Matthew Cohen, an associate professor with the School of Forest Resources and Conservation, found that another factor may be in play – decreased populations of algae-eating snails in the genus Elimia, sometimes called “the little janitor of the springs.”
The team assessed populations in 11 springs and found that the springs with fewer snails tended to have more algae. Officials with two state water management districts have indicated they’ll increase monitoring efforts related to Elimia to investigate the correlation further.