, Volume 112, Issue 4, pp 435-446

Simulated sea level change alters anatomy, physiology, growth, and reproduction of red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle L.)

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Abstract

Tropical coastal forests – mangroves – will be one of the first ecosystems to be affected by altered sea levels accompanying global climate change. Responses of mangrove forests to changing sea levels depend on reactions of individual plants, yet such responses have not been addressed experimentally. We report data from a long-term greenhouse study that assessed physiological and individual growth responses of the dominant neotropical mangrove, Rhizophora mangle, to levels of inundation expected to occur in the Caribbean within 50–100 years. In this study, we grew potted plants in tanks with simulated semidiurnal (twice daily) high tides that approximated current conditions (MW plants), a 16-cm increase in sea level (LW plants), and a 16-cm decrease in sea level (HW plants). The experiment lasted 2½ years, beginning with mangrove seedlings and terminating after plants began to reproduce. Environmental (air temperature, relative humidity, photosynthetically active radiation) and edaphic conditions (pH, redox, soil sulfide) approximated field conditions in Belize, the source locale for the seedlings. HW plants were shorter and narrower, and produced fewer branches and leaves, responses correlated with the development of acid-sulfide soils in their pots. LW plants initially grew more rapidly than MW plants. However, the growth of LW plants slowed dramatically once they reached the sapling stage, and by the end of the experiment, MW plants were 10–20% larger in all measured growth parameters. Plants did not exhibit differences in allometric growth as a function of inundation. Anatomical characteristics of leaves did not differ among treatments. Both foliar C:N and root porosity decreased from LW through MW to HW. Relative to LW and HW plants, MW plants had 1–7% fewer stomata/mm2, 6–21% greater maximum photosynthetic rates, 3–23% greater absolute relative growth rates (RGRs), and a 30% higher RGR for a given increase in net assimilation rate. Reduced growth of R. mangle under realistic conditions approximating future inundation depths likely will temper projected increased growth of this species under concomitant increases in the atmospheric concentration of CO2.

Received: 27 March 1997 / Accepted: 7 July 1997