Mangrove Forest and Soil Development on a Rapidly Accreting Shore in New Zealand
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- Lovelock, C.E., Sorrell, B.K., Hancock, N. et al. Ecosystems (2010) 13: 437. doi:10.1007/s10021-010-9329-2
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Mangrove forests are rapidly expanding their distribution in New Zealand, which is at the southern limit of their range. We investigated how these expanding mangrove forests develop through time. We assessed patterns in forest structure and function at the Firth of Thames, which is a rapidly accreting mangrove site in New Zealand where 1 km of mangrove of Avicennia marina has established seaward since the 1950s. Across the intertidal region, mangrove forest structure was highly variable. We used bomb-pulse radiocarbon dating to age the forest. Two major forest establishment events were identified; one in 1978–1981 and another in 1991–1995. These events coincided with sustained El Niño activity and are likely the result of reduced wind and wave energy at the site during these periods. We used the two forests of different ages to assess whether mangroves in New Zealand mature at similar rates as other mangroves and whether they conform to classic models of succession. The timing of forest maturation is similar in New Zealand as in more tropical locations with trees exhibiting features of mature forests as they age from about 10 to about 30 years. In older forest (~30 years old) trees become larger and stands more homogenous than in the younger forest (~10 years old). Carbon and nutrient concentrations in soils increased and soils become more aerobic in older forest compared to younger forest. Additionally, using fertilization experiments, we established that despite reduced growth rates in older forests, nitrogen remained limiting to growth in both older and young forests. However, in contrast to classic successional models leaf tissue nutrient concentrations and nutrient conservation (nutrient resorption from senescence leaf tissue) were similar in forests of differing ages and did not vary with fertilization. We conclude that mangrove forest expansion in New Zealand is influenced by climatic factors. Mangrove forests mature rapidly, even at the limits of their range and they satisfy many of the successional patterns predicted by Odum (1969) for the early stages of forest succession.