Wetlands represent the largest component of the terrestrial biological carbon pool and thus play an important role in global carbon cycles. Most global carbon budgets, however, have focused on dry land ecosystems that extend over large areas and have not accounted for the many small, scattered carbon-storing ecosystems such as tidal saline wetlands. We compiled data for 154 sites in mangroves and salt marshes from the western and eastern Atlantic and Pacific coasts, as well as the Indian Ocean, Mediterranean Ocean, and Gulf of Mexico. The set of sites spans a latitudinal range from 22.4°S in the Indian Ocean to 55.5°N in the northeastern Atlantic. The average soil carbon density of mangrove swamps (0.055 ± 0.004 g cm À3 ) is significantly higher than the salt marsh average (0.039 ± 0.003 g cm À3 ). Soil carbon density in mangrove swamps and Spartina patens marshes declines with increasing average annual temperature, probably due to increased decay rates at higher temperatures. In contrast, carbon sequestration rates were not significantly different between mangrove swamps and salt marshes. Variability in sediment accumulation rates within marshes is a major control of carbon sequestration rates masking any relationship with climatic parameters. Globally, these combined wetlands store at least 44.6 Tg C yr À1 and probably more, as detailed areal inventories are not available for salt marshes in China and South America. Much attention has been given to the role of freshwater wetlands, particularly northern peatlands, as carbon sinks. In contrast to peatlands, salt marshes and mangroves release negligible amounts of greenhouse gases and store more carbon per unit area.
Salt marsh ecosystems are maintained by the dominant macrophytes that regulate the elevation of their habitat within a narrow portion of the intertidal zone by accumulating organic matter and trapping inorganic sediment. The long‐term stability of these ecosystems is explained by interactions among sea level, land elevation, primary production, and sediment accretion that regulate the elevation of the sediment surface toward an equilibrium with mean sea level. We show here in a salt marsh that this equilibrium is adjusted upward by increased production of the salt marsh macrophyte Spartina alterniflora and downward by an increasing rate of relative sea‐level rise (RSLR). Adjustments in marsh surface elevation are slow in comparison to interannual anomalies and long‐period cycles of sea level, and this lag in sediment elevation results in significant variation in annual primary productivity. We describe a theoretical model that predicts that the system will be stable against changes in relative mean sea level when surface elevation is greater than what is optimal for primary production. When surface elevation is less than optimal, the system will be unstable. The model predicts that there is an optimal rate of RSLR at which the equilibrium elevation and depth of tidal flooding will be optimal for plant growth. However, the optimal rate of RSLR also represents an upper limit because at higher rates of RSLR the plant community cannot sustain an elevation that is within its range of tolerance. For estuaries with high sediment loading, such as those on the southeast coast of the United States, the limiting rate of RSLR was predicted to be at most 1.2 cm/yr, which is 3.5 times greater than the current, long‐term rate of RSLR.
Aim The long-term stability of coastal ecosystems such as mangroves and salt marshes depends upon the maintenance of soil elevations within the intertidal habitat as sea level changes. We examined the rates and processes of peat formation by mangroves of the Caribbean Region to better understand biological controls on habitat stability.Location Mangrove-dominated islands on the Caribbean coasts of Belize, Honduras and Panama were selected as study sites.Methods Biological processes controlling mangrove peat formation were manipulated (in Belize) by the addition of nutrients (nitrogen or phosphorus) to Rhizophora mangle (red mangrove), and the effects on the dynamics of soil elevation were determined over a 3-year period using rod surface elevation tables (RSET) and marker horizons. Peat composition and geological accretion rates were determined at all sites using radiocarbon-dated cores. ResultsThe addition of nutrients to mangroves caused significant changes in rates of mangrove root accumulation, which influenced both the rate and direction of change in elevation. Areas with low root input lost elevation and those with high rates gained elevation. These findings were consistent with peat analyses at multiple Caribbean sites showing that deposits (up to 10 m in depth) were composed primarily of mangrove root matter. Comparison of radiocarbon-dated cores at the study sites with a sea-level curve for the western Atlantic indicated a tight coupling between peat building in Caribbean mangroves and sea-level rise over the Holocene.Main conclusions Mangroves common to the Caribbean region have adjusted to changing sea level mainly through subsurface accumulation of refractory mangrove roots. Without root and other organic inputs, submergence of these tidal forests is inevitable due to peat decomposition, physical compaction and eustatic sea-level rise. These findings have relevance for predicting the effects of sea-level rise and biophysical processes on tropical mangrove ecosystems.
Sea-level rise can threaten the long-term sustainability of coastal communities and valuable ecosystems such as coral reefs, salt marshes and mangroves. Mangrove forests have the capacity to keep pace with sea-level rise and to avoid inundation through vertical accretion of sediments, which allows them to maintain wetland soil elevations suitable for plant growth. The Indo-Pacific region holds most of the world's mangrove forests, but sediment delivery in this region is declining, owing to anthropogenic activities such as damming of rivers. This decline is of particular concern because the Indo-Pacific region is expected to have variable, but high, rates of future sea-level rise. Here we analyse recent trends in mangrove surface elevation changes across the Indo-Pacific region using data from a network of surface elevation table instruments. We find that sediment availability can enable mangrove forests to maintain rates of soil-surface elevation gain that match or exceed that of sea-level rise, but for 69 per cent of our study sites the current rate of sea-level rise exceeded the soil surface elevation gain. We also present a model based on our field data, which suggests that mangrove forests at sites with low tidal range and low sediment supply could be submerged as early as 2070.
19I.19II.20III.20IV.21V.26VI.29VII.3031References31 Summary Mangroves are among the most well described and widely studied wetland communities in the world. The greatest threats to mangrove persistence are deforestation and other anthropogenic disturbances that can compromise habitat stability and resilience to sea‐level rise. To persist, mangrove ecosystems must adjust to rising sea level by building vertically or become submerged. Mangroves may directly or indirectly influence soil accretion processes through the production and accumulation of organic matter, as well as the trapping and retention of mineral sediment. In this review, we provide a general overview of research on mangrove elevation dynamics, emphasizing the role of the vegetation in maintaining soil surface elevations (i.e. position of the soil surface in the vertical plane). We summarize the primary ways in which mangroves may influence sediment accretion and vertical land development, for example, through root contributions to soil volume and upward expansion of the soil surface. We also examine how hydrological, geomorphological and climatic processes may interact with plant processes to influence mangrove capacity to keep pace with rising sea level. We draw on a variety of studies to describe the important, and often under‐appreciated, role that plants play in shaping the trajectory of an ecosystem undergoing change.
Summary 1We measured sediment elevation and accretion dynamics in mangrove forests on the islands of Guanaja and Roatan, Honduras, impacted by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 to determine if collapse of underlying peat was occurring as a result of mass tree mortality. Little is known about the balance between production and decomposition of soil organic matter in the maintenance of sediment elevation of mangrove forests with biogenic soils. 2 Sediment elevation change measured with the rod surface elevation table from 18 months to 33 months after the storm differed significantly among low, medium and high wind impact sites. Mangrove forests suffering minimal to partial mortality gained elevation at a rate (5 mm year − 1 ) greater than vertical accretion (2 mm year − 1 ) measured from artificial soil marker horizons, suggesting that root production contributed to sediment elevation. Basin forests that suffered mass tree mortality experienced peat collapse of about 11 mm year − 1 as a result of decomposition of dead root material and sediment compaction. Low soil shear strength and lack of root growth accompanied elevation decreases. 3 Model simulations using the Relative Elevation Model indicate that peat collapse in the high impact basin mangrove forest would be 37 mm year − 1 for the 2 years immediately after the storm, as root material decomposed. In the absence of renewed root growth, the model predicts that peat collapse will continue for at least 8 more years at a rate (7 mm year − 1 ) similar to that measured (11 mm year − 1 ). 4 Mass tree mortality caused rapid elevation loss. Few trees survived and recovery of the high impact forest will thus depend primarily on seedling recruitment. Because seedling establishment is controlled in large part by sediment elevation in relation to tide height, continued peat collapse could further impair recovery rates.
Tidal wetlands experiencing increased rates of sea-level rise (SLR) must increase rates of soil elevation gain to avoid permanent conversion to open water. The maximal rate of SLR that these ecosystems can tolerate depends partly on mineral sediment deposition, but the accumulation of organic matter is equally important for many wetlands. Plant productivity drives organic matter dynamics and is sensitive to global change factors, such as rising atmospheric CO2 concentration. It remains unknown how global change will influence organic mechanisms that determine future tidal wetland viability. Here, we present experimental evidence that plant response to elevated atmospheric [CO2] stimulates biogenic mechanisms of elevation gain in a brackish marsh. Elevated CO2 (ambient ؉ 340 ppm) accelerated soil elevation gain by 3.9 mm yr ؊1 in this 2-year field study, an effect mediated by stimulation of below-ground plant productivity. Further, a companion greenhouse experiment revealed that the CO2 effect was enhanced under salinity and flooding conditions likely to accompany future SLR. Our results indicate that by stimulating biogenic contributions to marsh elevation, increases in the greenhouse gas, CO2, may paradoxically aid some coastal wetlands in counterbalancing rising seas.coastal wetlands ͉ nitrogen pollution ͉ tidal marsh loss ͉ root productivity ͉ salinity T he world currently loses thousands of hectares of low-lying coastal wetlands to shallow open water each year (1-3), attributable, in part, to a recent acceleration of sea-level rise (SLR) (4-6). Loss of coastal wetlands threatens critical services these ecosystems provide, such as supporting commercially important fisheries, providing a wildlife habitat, improving water quality, and buffering human populations from oceanic forces (3). Recent catastrophes, such as Hurricane Katrina and the Asian Tsunami, have underscored the importance of understanding factors that govern sustainability of coastal wetlands in the face of climate change and accelerating SLR. Marshes must build vertically through accumulation of mineral and organic matter to maintain a constant elevation relative to sea level (7). To explain the dynamics of coastal wetland elevation, researchers have traditionally focused on abiotic factors, such as reductions of mineral sediment loads from hydrologic modifications (8). However, organic matter dynamics have a clear importance in peaty soils, which are composed mostly of live and dead plant tissues (9, 10) and may also play an important role in stabilizing mineral soils (11). Organic mechanisms may be especially sensitive to other global change factors and may determine the fate of tidal wetlands.Rising atmospheric CO 2 is largely responsible for recent global warming and will continue to contribute to accelerating SLR through thermal expansion and ice melt (12). Elevated CO 2 , in addition to accelerating SLR, may have important biologically mediated effects on coastal wetland ecosystems, such as stimulating plant productivity (13). The effects ...
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