FAU Research Student Finds Carolina Willow Could Dry Up Florida Marshes

Mar 29, 2015

Florida Atlantic University held its fifth annual Broward Student Research Symposium at the Davie campus Friday. One student presenter found the Carolina willow, a native but invasive Florida plant, could dry up the state’s marshes. 

Carolina Willows encroaching on sawgrass in St. Johns River marshes.
Credit Michelle Budny

The willow has been increasingly invading St. Johns River for the last 50 years. Levees and canals, created to stabilize water levels in the river, caused the willow to thrive.

Michelle Budny is a graduate research student at FAU, studying environmental science. For the last year and a half, she’s been collecting data and analyzing Carolina willows -- and taking weekly airboat rides into the marshes of Blue Cypress Conservation Area.

"As these willows move into the sawgrass, they use more water, which means that there's less water available in the ecosystem for other processes," says Budny. 

Michelle Budny is a master's research student at Florida Atlantic University. She proved that the Carolina Willow, an invasive but native Florida plant, could dry up the state’s marshes.
Credit Jessica Meszaros / WLRN

She used a portable photosynthesis analyzer to clamp onto live willow leaves. Budny discovered the willow needs more water for the amount of carbon it gains.

That means it takes a lot of water from the environment. She says this could potentially dry out Florida marshes as the plant continues to grow outward. 

"Especially as climate change progresses, there's expected to be less precipitation in South Florida, so that has implications for water availability," she says. 

Budny is ready to hand off her data to St. Johns River Management District, so they can decide how to deal with their willow invasion.

As for Budny, she’s graduating in May and plans to continue researching Florida’s wetlands.