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An urbanized Florida means more stormwater ponds, invasive plants

GAINESVILLE — As Florida becomes increasingly urbanized, more than half the state’s stormwater ponds appear in two metropolitan areas -- Orlando and Tampa Bay, new research from the University of Florida shows.

In their first attempt to quantify stormwater ponds, researchers with the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences found about 76,000 such ponds statewide. Many master-planned communities, especially in Florida, rely on stormwater ponds for flood control and water treatment. But the ponds also can be homes to many invasive plant species, which are costly to control.

Suspecting invasive plants can thrive in stormwater ponds, a group of UF/IFAS scientists reviewed maps of Florida to find the ponds. They also examined the number and types of invasive plants in about 30 such ponds in Gainesville, Florida, chosen for its proximity to UF and how its ponds are managed.

Their study showed about 41,100 stormwater ponds in Central Florida, a region that scientists broadly defined as the Interstate 4 corridor urban regions of Tampa Bay and Orlando. By contrast, researchers found about 6,300 such ponds in the Panhandle, a more rural area.

Researchers found about 70 percent of the invasive plant species in the Gainesville ponds were horticultural plants commonly used for urban and residential landscaping. People introduce invasive plants through their landscape choices, said Basil Iannone, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of landscape ecology.