Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Articles



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Journal of Aquatic Plant Management



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Invasive aquatic plant management, Biological control, Trichechus manatus, Manatee, Eichhornia crassipes, Pistia stratiotes, Herbivory


West-Indian manatees (Trichechus manatus L.) are opportunistic, herbivorous aquatic mammals that occupy the warm, shallow coastal waters throughout the southeastern United States. Manatees are known to feed on large quantities of diverse plant types. Presently within the state of Florida, manatees are an endangered species facing environmental and anthropogenic threats. Several different organizations work to rescue and rehabilitate these animals for an eventual return to the wild. Also within Florida, invasive aquatic plants are becoming increasingly problematic, creating both negative economic and environmental impacts. Each year, efforts are made to control these exotic plant species through several different methods. However, physical, mechanical, chemical and biological means to contain nonindigenous plants each have their drawbacks. There is a need for a natural, integrated approach to invasive aquatic plant management. The opportunity for manatees to control exotic plant species within the Florida ecosystem exists, but is improbable because of inadequate population densities. This study builds on this potential examining the use of manatees held in captivity as a tool for management by utilizing the physical collection of targeted nonindigenous plants to supplement the diet of rehabilitated manatees. Provisions are augmented with nutrients that manatees may not obtain from other sources typically found in captive diets. Early introduction of natural plants may allow for an easier transition to normal feeding patterns upon release and may condition animals to continue consumption of exotic plants in the wild. Each step has the potential to contribute to the reduction of invasive aquatic plants in Florida, and presents a cost-effective feeding alternative for manatee rehabilitation facilities. This method promotes a native Florida species as a natural solution to the problem.



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