Everglades is home to 323 bird species, 150 fish species, and 400
species of land and water vertebrates, 36 of which are endangered.
(World Wildlife Fund, 1998). Many of these species are now endemic,
meaning that they are only found in south Florida.
Although all of the species in an ecosystem are interrelated, and
though all will be affected by the loss of another species,
some are more integral to ecological balance than others.
These keystone species, "named for the stone
Romans placed at the top of their arches to keep them from collapsing"
are the most integral and could result in the extinction of several
other species should they become extinct or endangered. (Becher,
Oftentimes, these keystone species are not the visible species
such as West Indian manatees, American alligators or Florida panthers,
but are microorganisms, essential in nutrient cycles or at the very
base of the food chain. (Becher, 1998) By monitoring these species,
researchers get an indication of how environmental
conditions are doing during a given time frame. (National Park Service, 2002)