Mangrove Tracking: Letters from the Field

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Mangroves are on the move. Read first-hand testimonies from scientists tracking the trees in Florida’s tropical forests, where climate change is forcing two ecosystems to collide. A summer 2012 project of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and the University of Maryland.

 

Mangrove Tracking V: A Maverick Crab

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

Mayda Nathan/University of Maryland

Today we spotted a mangrove tree crab (Aratus pisonii) enjoying nectar from a black mangrove flower. It was surprising enough to find Aratus all over these black mangroves, at the very northern edge of the mangrove range in Florida; it was even more astonishing to see this one’s very un-crablike behavior! Aratus are known omnivores – consumers of mangrove leaves, propagules, insects, even other Aratus – but we’ve never thought of them as floral visitors. They are normally extremely shy, but this particular Aratus was so blissed out by its sugary meal that it didn’t mind (or notice) as we snapped pictures and gawked.

-Mayda Nathan, graduate student (University of Maryland)

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 1065098. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Mangrove Tracking IV: Brush with Manatees

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

by Dan Gruner

A manatee samples red mangrove leaves and its cigar-shaped propagules. Photo: John Parker

Our task this week was to begin “ground-truthing” locations on the map to evaluate them for suitability as field study sites. This was basic reconnaissance, otherwise known as exploring (or just mucking about). It’s always exciting to visit new sites. For me, recon missions recall childhood Christmas mornings, with the anticipation of finding treasure in the stacks of wrapped boxes under the tree. What treasure will we find in the marshes and mangroves?

Even with the tremendous leaps we’ve gained from satellite imaging, Google Earth and other technologies, experience on the ground (or in the water) is irreplaceable. Our team must build a network of sites along the lagoons and estuaries of the Florida coast, and ultimately the globe, to understand the causes and consequences of shifts in the range of tropical mangrove species. On this day we probed several mangrove and salt marsh estuaries along the Indian River Lagoon. We tested technologies allowing real-time exploration of satellite imagery while comparing that imagery to landscape and vegetation features we saw on the ground. This was GPS on steroids! By allowing us to optimize site selection and replicate sites all along the coast, these technologies will help us characterize the vegetation of the estuaries and how they’ve changed over time.

But that day our attention was drawn away from new technology to something much older (about 50 million years old): manatees. Click to continue »

Mangrove Tracking III: The Glories of Field Work

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Mangrove research is not glamorous work.

Researchers Lorae Simpson, Jake Bodart, Nancy Shipley and Mayda Nathan ford across a mangrove-surrounded pool. (Brian Thompson)


Don’t let the tropical locales and boat-to-work daily routine fool you; research in mangroves requires high tolerance for heat, biting bugs, dirt and wet. But the impenetrability of mangroves means that scientific understanding of this ecosystem has lagged somewhat behind other terrestrial environments. And this lack of information is like a magnet for ecologists.

Our team has descended on the Florida mangroves this summer to study the insects that live in and on them, the fish that find shelter among their submerged roots, the dietary choices of the crabs that live in their branches, their reproductive biology, and the interactions between the three mangrove species found here and their marsh plant neighbors. Taken together, our efforts will contribute to a better understanding of the communities that assemble as mangroves spread north into the northern Florida saltmarshes.

This means we spend some days struggling through thickets of mangroves, waist-high patches of pickleweed, and neck-deep pools of brackish water. In building up a research program, we’re building a lot of character, too.

More stories from the mangroves >>

-Mayda Nathan, graduate student (University of Maryland)

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 1065098. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Mangrove Tracking II: Invasive Lionfish

Monday, June 18th, 2012

by Cora Johnston

Red Lionfish. Photo: Jacek Madejski

This just in: Invasive and venomous lionfish (Pterois volitans) have just been spotted in mangroves along Florida’s Atlantic coast! We encountered two individuals of this invasive species (they’re native to the Indian and Pacific Oceans) while conducting snorkeling fish surveys along the Indian River Lagoon.

Click to continue »

Mangrove Tracking I: A Forest on the Move

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

by Dan Gruner

Black mangrove. Mangroves like this tolerate hot, salty environments partly by exuding excess salt onto their leaves. (John Parker)

Will tropical mangroves take over the world?

I don’t think anyone believes that will happen. However, it does seem that mangroves are moving up in latitude, encroaching into more temperate salt marsh systems dominated by cord grass and other herbaceous species. Although mangrove systems are in steep decline worldwide because of coastal development, aquaculture and other human activities, climate change and other factors may be increasing their total geographic range.

Why would this happen? What would this mean for coastal ecosystems in the USA and globally? And what would it mean for the billions of people who live within 20 miles of a coastal zone, or the billions more who rely on some form of oceanic protein?

Click to continue »

As the Mangroves March North…

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

Aerial view of Mangal Cay in the western Caribbean - just one of many mangrove havens Ilka Feller has explored.

As global temperatures rise, mangrove forests from the southeastern US are pushing farther north. Scientists don’t know how long, how fast, or what the exact consequences will be, but images from NASA satellites – and $1.3 million – will help them find out.

Ilka Feller, senior ecologist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, will lead the effort to track more than 100 miles of Florida mangrove forests encroaching on their northern neighbors, the salt marshes. Feller has been studying mangroves for almost 20 years, keeping tabs on their progress in Florida, Panama, Belize and Australia. The new grant is one of 15 NASA-sponsored projects that will combine satellite data with field work to give scientists a bird’s-eye view of climate change.

Click to continue »