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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Migrating Mangroves

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Tuesday, January 21, 2014/Categories: natural history, environment, climate change

Mangrove forests are on the move. New research using 28 years of satellite data shows that the tropical forests have expanded along Florida's Atlantic Coast. The range of mangroves is limited by cold temperatures but unlike studies that focus on average temperature changes over time, this new study shows that it is changes in frequency of rare, severe events that determines whether landscapes loose or expand ground. The expansion of the black mangroves in Florida is a visual example of a changing climate and the ecological impact of periodic extremes in progress.

Mangroves are essential components of many semi and tropical coastal ecosystems. They stabilize shorelines, are bulwarks against storms, and serve as critical "nurseries" for species of immature marine species. They are eliminated wholesale in many places where they are considered "wasteland" in many cases to produce aquaculture farms for shrimp and cultivated fish.

In the new study based on Landsat 8 image data gathered from 1984-2011, the trees have moved northwards from Miami and have also expanded near Cape Canaveral more than doubling in area. In the process, the mangroves are displacing salt marshes in the process of colonization. According to Kyle Cavanaugh, a Smithsonian research fellow and one of the lead investigators says:

“Some people may say this is a good thing, because of the tremendous threats that mangroves face but this is not taking place in a vacuum. The mangroves are replacing salt marshes, which have important ecosystem functions and food webs of their own.”

The long-term affects of these ecosystem changes are not known yet. However, However, in ecological parlance "there's no such thing as a free lunch". Someone always wins and someone always looses in a battle for a habitat niche. At this point the mangroves appear to be winning.

Northern Mangroves, Florida  (credit: Kyle Cavanaugh)  Southern Limits, Australia (credit: Peter Dwyer)

In the case of northern hemisphere mangroves, their is still room to move in Florida but the bottom of the world  in Australia its already the end of the line for trees in the Victorian national park, Wilson's Promontory . There the migrating mangroves are approaching the southern ocean where their march will definitely be over.


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