Collaborative LTREB: Experimental and Observational Studies of Mangrove Forest Structure and Gap Dynamics
Wang, Le Principal Investigator
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The proposed research continues a long-term investigation of regeneration in mangrove forests on Panama's Caribbean coast. Mangrove forests are a dominant vegetation type along tropical shorelines and are inhabited by a unique fauna and flora that are often distributed in zones along the tidal gradient. Mangroves also provide resources and services to humans, including nursery grounds for harvested crustaceans and fishes, shoreline protection, and trapping of sediments and pollutants carried in runoff from upland areas. They are now among the most threatened of coastal habitats due to deforestation associated with resource exploitation (e.g. aquaculture, mining) and development. In the study area, mangrove forest structure and dynamics are the products of regeneration across a mosaic of differently aged canopy gaps created by lightning. This study employs long-term observations and field experiments to identify the mechanisms that determine patterns of regeneration following disturbance and the distributions of mangrove species along the tidal gradient. This is one of the most comprehensive studies of mangrove community ecology ever conducted. In addition to enhancing our general understanding of the contributions of abiotic and biotic processes to forest dynamics, it is providing vital information for predicting and remediating human-caused alterations that endanger these valuable wetlands. The project provides research experience to numerous university students, and supports the environmental education program at Smithsonian's Galeta Marine Laboratory.