Florida manatee population likely to withstand for 100 years

by   Profile Herbert   When 20th April 2017
Florida manatee (c) Todd Essick
Florida manatee (c) Todd Essick
Florida manatee (c) Todd Essick
Florida manatee (c) Todd Essick
Florida manatee (c) Todd Essick

Manatee population to slowly grow and shift northward Florida's manatee population is likely to endure for the next century, provided wildlife managers continue to protect them and their habitat, according to a new study by the US Geological Survey (USGS) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI). In the study, veteran manatee scientists estimated there is less than a one-half of one percent chance that either Florida's Atlantic or its Gulf of Mexico manatee population could fall to as few as 500 adults - a level that could threaten the manatees' survival in the long term. Lead author and USGS research ecologist Michael C. Runge said, “Today, the Florida manatees' numbers are high. Adult manatees' longevity is good, and the state has available habitat to support a population that is continuing to grow.” "Still, new threats could emerge, or existing threats could interact in unexpected ways. Managers need to remain vigilant to keep manatee populations viable over the long haul,” he cautioned. From about 1,000 individuals in the mid-1970s, Florida's manatee population has grown to 6,620 in early 2017 due to boat speed regulations, habitat protection and other measures. Based on the team's assessment, the population will probably slowly double over the next 50 years and then level off. Over time, the population as a whole will remain high. Specifically, environmental and habitat changes are likely to cause the population in South Florida to become less abundant and the population in North Florida to be more numerous. Scientists of the Sirenia Project have studied manatees since the 1970s, photographing more than 3,000 animals and identifying them from each individual's unique pattern of propeller scars and other markings. From a database that contains more than 750,000 manatee photographs, satellite tracking, genetic information and other data, the USGS and FWRI have achieved a strong understanding of how manatees interact with their environment. At USGS' Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland, all this information is entered into a computer model that assesses how Florida manatee populations are faring at present and in the coming decades. The model is updated periodically, incorporating insights from experts and new information about changing conditions. Based on the latest overview, the manatee populations will continue to face two major threats in the coming decades: fatal boat collisions, and the loss of warm-water habitats that provide them with refuge during the winter. Red tides are another possible threat, if they become more frequent and intense in the coming decades. The researchers tested many scenarios in a bid to find out a set of circumstances that would trigger a statewide decline in the manatee population. The next century is likely to see the population shift around the state in response to regional environmental changes. For instance, some southeast Florida power plants are expected to shut down over the next 40 to 50 years. If this happened, manatees will lose the warm water refuges created in the plants' discharge canals. Manatees in southwest Florida are likely to be increasingly affected by red tide and may also lose some warm water refuges. As a result, the manatee populations in southeast and southwest Florida may decline. However, this would be balanced by increased manatee numbers in northeast and northwest Florida, where warm natural springs are capable of hosting more manatees. “Manatee populations will continue to face threats. But if these threats continue to be managed effectively, manatees will be an integral and iconic part of Florida's coastal ecosystems through the coming century,” said Runge. Video (youTube): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Pgd1O00psA

Written by
Profile Herbert
When 20th April 2017
Location Crystal River, Florida, USA

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