, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 161-180

History and biogeography of the mangrove ecosystem, based on a critical reassessment of the paleontological record

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The geological record of mangrove plants is based on comparablemorphological characteristics of pollen, fruits and wood, of fossil andmodern species. But this record relies on the assumption that the ecologicaland habitat preferences of ancestral taxa have remained similar throughages. A reexamination of fossil evidence of Avicennia, Pelliciera,Sonneratia, Rhizophora, Bruguiera, Ceriops, etc.reveals that the modern mangrove flora was pantropic by the Eocene, andappears to have originated during Paleocene times. Earlier Paleozoic andMesozoic candidates for a mangrove ecology lack conclusive evidence oftheir exclusive association with tidal environments. It is therefore clear thatcontinental drift had a limited role in the dispersal and development ofmodern mangrove floras. The Eocene/Oligocene boundary crisis appears toherald a beginning of the biogeographic split between the current-dayeastern and western provinces of mangrove plants. But, while the climaticorigins of this major disjunction is not clearly understood, our reassessmentof Tertiary paleoclimates suggests that the major cooling events of themiddle Paleocene, the end of the Eocene and the middle Pliocene were themost likely influences on the evolution of mangrove floras. The associatedinvertebrates, especially molluscs, further support our assertion that amodern mangrove ecosystem was established only during the earliestEocene times. We summarize our interpretation in a set of 9 palinspasticmaps of fossil mangrove genera through their evolution ending with thecurrent, bipartite distribution of present day taxa.