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Species turnover on a protected subtropical barrier island: a long-term study

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The commercial development that threatens the biodiversity of coastal habitats is particularly severe along the sandy shores of subtropical Florida. The objective of our study was to test the applicability of the equilibrium theory of island biogeography to Cayo-Costa Island, the largest protected barrier island remaining in peninsular Florida. Our null hypothesis was that there would be no change in the number and composition of native vascular plant species on Cayo-Costa 15 years after the first inventory of the island's flora. Our reinventory documents a total of 230 native species in 1990-92 compared to 255 native species in 1975-77. Immigrants were represented by twenty-eight new species, while extinctions totalled fifty-three species. These results indicate a turnover rate of approximately 2.7 species yr-1 with an extinction rate of 3.5 species yr-1 and an immigration rate of 1.9 species yr-1. The net loss of 1.6 species yr-1 suggests a non-equilibrium condition that is not readily explained by changes in habitat diversity associated with the documented patterns of shoreline erosion and deposition. Cayo-Costa's net loss of twenty-five native species (including one tree species and four shrub species) was localized mainly in those habitats where there had been a significant increase in the relative abundance of the naturalized weedy exotic species Schinus terebinthifolius and Casuarina equisetifolia. We conclude that the spread of naturalized weedy species limits the applicability of the equilibrium theory of island biogeography to species-rich subtropical barrier islands, even in cases where the islands are protected from human disturbance.
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Keywords: Casuarina equisetifolia; Cayo-Costa; Florida; Schinus terebinthifolius; Species turnover; equilibrium; extinction; immigration; island biogeography; turnover

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Graduate School of Geography, Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts 01610, U.S.A. 2: Department of Biology, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida 33620, U.S.A.

Publication date: 1996-05-01

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