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Aquatic Vegetation Mapping on Florida Lakes

Aquatic vegetation map of Orange Lake 2019

Freshwater aquatic plants provide valuable habitat for fish and wildlife in Florida lakes. Changes or trends in plant communities affect habitat conditions for fish, waterfowl, wading birds, alligators, and threatened or endangered species. Aquatic vegetation mapping was initiated in 2005 to evaluate lake-wide habitat conditions on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes and Lake Istokpoga, and has since been expanded to other systems. FWC hired professional mapping contractors to create maps of aquatic plants based on aerial photography and ground-truthing field surveys. Vegetation mapping has been completed on a 3-year cycle for selected lakes (Istokpoga, Kissimmee, Lochloosa, Newnans, Orange, and Tohopekaliga). Results have documented lake-wide coverage of dominant plant communities over time. Freshwater Plants researchers then analyzed these data to estimate the amount of available habitat for fish and wildlife on each lake.

Mapping data are used by FWC teams in developing lake habitat management plans. On Orange Lake (12,700 acres, Alachua and Marion counties), results were compared over time to evaluate changes in vegetation and habitat value. For example, in 2007 researchers identified over 2,200 acres of high-quality largemouth bass habitat. After the 2012 drought, high-quality habitat declined to less than 100 acres. Since then, plant communities have begun to recover, and high-quality habitat exceeded 1,300 acres again in 2019. These trends can help lake managers identify management strategies needed to improve lake-wide habitat conditions for fish and wildlife.

Maps showing available habitat for largemouth bass on Orange Lake in 2007, 2013, and 2019

Amount of available habitat for largemouth bass observed on Orange Lake in 2007, 2013, and 2019.