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USF study: Oyster reefs threatened by changes to Florida’s climate

Cold weather freezes and extremes are decreasing in Florida and may be an indicator of the state's climate changing from subtropical to tropical, researchers say.

TAMPA – Researchers with the University of South Florida say oyster reefs in Tampa Bay and along the Gulf Coast are facing a serious threat from changes to Florida's climate.

Temperatures are increasing globally, and cold weather freezes and extremes in Florida are diminishing, which is a strong indicator that the state's climate is shifting from subtropical to tropical, experts say.

In the water, researchers say they have noticed that mangroves were overtaking most oyster reefs in Tampa Bay and threaten the lives of other animals depending on oyster reef habitats. For example, the American oystercatcher, a type of bird, is classified as threatened by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission due to the mangroves issue, the USF study says.

Shallow coast waters and remnant shorelines supported typical subtropical marine habitats for centuries in Tampa Bay, such as oyster reefs, seagrass beds, mud flats and salt marshes. However, a decrease in freezes allowed mangrove islands to replace previously dominant salt marsh vegetation and now have taken over oyster reef habitats that existed for centuries, researchers say.