Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Biology (Cell Biology, Microbiology, Molecular Biology)

Major Professor

James R. Garey, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Valerie J. Harwood, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kathleen M. Scott, Ph.D.

Committee Member

John H. Paul, Ph.D.


anchialine, biodiversity, cave, spring, geochemistry


West Central Florida is a complex karst environment with numerous sinkholes, springs, and submerged cave systems. Many of these karst features are anchialine, located within the subterranean estuary where freshwater and saltwater mix. Water quality data and/or fauna data were obtained from twenty-one karst features and their associated cave systems. The anchialine karst environment of the study area has a wide range of habitats with measured salinities ranging from freshwater at <0.2 ppt to sulfidic, hypersaline water at 38.5 ppt and measured pH readings ranging from 6.39 in water impacted by sulfur oxidizing bacteria to 10.3 in an isolated room of a cave. Stygobitic crustaceans were identified in conduits extending beneath the Gulf of Mexico supporting the hypotheses that freshwater crustaceans could survive higher sea levels in freshwater conduits beneath saltwater. The fauna associated with the anchialine cave systems included Sabellidae and Polychaeta worms, hydroids, cnidarians and hydrobiid snails. Jewfish Sink, like other anaerobic marine basins that were submarine springs, has four zones: oxic zone, transition zone, upper anoxic zone and anoxic bottom water. The upper zones have seasonal water quality variations from winter cooling and sinking of surface water and changes in the microbial communities. Activity of sulfate reducing bacteria is carbon limited in the anoxic zones, where sulfate reduction is the major metabolic process, and primary production is phosphate limited in the oxic zones. Organic input from the Gulf of Mexico drives the bacterial anaerobic ecosystem, resulting in a “sulfide pump”, in which sulfide percolates upward removing oxygen from the overlying sediment.