HCNSO Student Theses and Dissertations

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology


Oceanographic Center

First Advisor

Charles G. Messing

Second Advisor

Curtis Burney

Third Advisor

Richard E. Jacobsen


Wetland resources in South Florida are regulated at three redundant jurisdictional levels: local or municipal regulations set forth by many independent jurisdictions, State regulations derived directly from Florida Statutes, and Federal regulations promulgated primarily under the Clean Water Act. All three levels of government can have jurisdiction over projects that affect regulated wetland resources, yet inconsistent policies and standards remain and continue to confound regulators despite decades of intensive coordination efforts and a rapidly growing scientific research base. The size of a wetland mitigation area is of primary consideration when evaluating its perceived ecological value, although wetland mitigation areas constructed in developed areas are typically isolated and generally make use of similar designs regardless of wetland size.

The Chironomidae (Order: Diptera) are the most diverse and abundant faunal taxon in all healthy freshwater bodies and are generally considered to be a reliable and effective ecological indicator. I conducted a preliminary comparison of chironomid communities between a suite of natural and artificial wetlands, and also evaluated the effect of wetland size on the community structure of the insect family Chironomidae. Using the Chironomid Pupal Exuviae Technique (CPET), collections of chironomid exuviae from a total of seven natural and artificial mitigation wetlands were compared across site groups and also correlated to recorded environmental conditions at each study site.

Chironomid species assemblages at nearly all sites were dominated by Parakiefferiella coronata, comprising nearly 36% of all collected exuviae. Species assemblages from mitigation wetlands exhibited strong similarity to the aggregate species assemblage from all sites. A greater abundance of exuviae was collected from artificial sites than from natural sites, and species assemblages collected from natural sites were dissimilar from those collected from artificial sites. No statistically significant differences in community structure were detected between larger and smaller wetlands. Environmental site conditions between natural and mitigation sites generally varied greatest in conductivity and pH. No significant gradient was identified in environmental conditions or chironomid community structure across wetlands of different size. A minor seasonal gradient in TP concentrations was observed and site S6 was the most enriched site included in this study while site S1 exhibited high conductivity for the duration of the project.

Differences between chironomid species assemblages collected from natural and artificial communities may be explained by the relatively static topography, more consistent substrate composition, and less diverse hydrophyte communities present in the natural sites which have generally reached a greater state of homeostasis. However, statistical tests generally support the null hypothesis. No statistically significant differences were detected between sites based on collected chironomid communities when grouped by wetland origin (artificial vs. natural) or size.

Observed differences between communities sampled from natural and artificial wetlands support regulatory concerns that artificial wetlands may not sufficiently emulate natural systems and that a constructed wetland system may take generations, or even centuries to sufficiently mimic its natural counterpart. Mitigation design complexity does appear to provide a diversity of microhabitats favorable to a greater variety of chironomids. However, a lack of statistical significance may support assertions that mitigation sites are successfully replacing natural wetlands. Implementation of CPET-based community structure analyses requires intensive labor and expertise and is not practical for regulatory purposes, but can provide robust data for effective and detailed site analysis.

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