Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Florida Manatee: Ecology & Conservation

Florida Manatee

            The Florida manatee, Trichechus manatus latirostris, is a subspecies of the West Indian Manatee.  Manatees live in freshwater, brackish, or marine habitats in shallow rivers, bays, estuaries, and coastal waters near Florida and nearby southeastern states.  They prefer a water temperature of above 68°F.  Their diet consists of sea grasses and other vegetation. 
            The Florida manatee is endangered, and their numbers have severely declined due to a number of threats including boat collisions, habitat loss, and fishery conflict.  It’s estimated that there are only about 5,000 Florida manatees in the wild.  There are conservation efforts and management plans in place to help the Florida manatee population. 
In my presentation I plan to cover the following topics:
·        Florida manatee, Trichechus manatus latirostris: Ecology (habitat, range, behavior, diet, reproduction); Endangered Status
·        Importance of the Florida manatee in the ecosystem
·        Threats the Florida manatee faces: fishery conflict, loss of warm water habitat/climate change, boat collisions, impaired immune system due to pollution, and red tide
·        Conservation/current research: Marine Mammal Protection Act, National Environmental Policy Act, The Endangered Species Act; The Florida Manatee Management Plan; aerial surveys to track manatee populations; ecotourism

A few studies I plan to discuss:

            One study tested the effects of environmental stressors, such as red tide and exposure to cold weather, on lymphocyte proliferation in Florida manatees.  It’s suggested that multiple stressors may have synergistic effects on immune function in manatees.

            Another study focused on the impact of climate change on Florida manatees.  Warmer oceans may be thought to have a positive impact on manatees, but the predicted impacts of climate change are actually detrimental to manatees.  Habitat degradation and harmful algal blooms are likely to increase with climate change, which will have negative impacts on the manatees.  

            Manatees also face the threat of boat collisions.  In order to implement effective protection zones, areas that manatee and boat collisions occur must be identified.  This study used statistical models to derive an index of risk co-occurrence between manatees and boats to identify areas where manatee/boat collisions are likely to occur.


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