Analysis and Simulation of Propagule Dispersal and Salinity Intrusion from Storm Surge on the Movement of a Marsh–Mangrove Ecotone in South Florida

Abstract

Coastal mangrove–freshwater marsh ecotones of the Everglades represent transitions between marine salt-tolerant halophytic and freshwater salt-intolerant glycophytic communities. It is hypothesized here that a self-reinforcing feedback, termed a “vegetation switch,” between vegetation and soil salinity, helps maintain the sharp mangrove–marsh ecotone. A general theoretical implication of the switch mechanism is that the ecotone will be stable to small disturbances but vulnerable to rapid regime shifts from large disturbances, such as storm surges, which could cause large spatial displacements of the ecotone. We develop a simulation model to describe the vegetation switch mechanism. The model couples vegetation dynamics and hydrologic processes. The key factors in the model are the amount of salt-water intrusion into the freshwater wetland and the passive transport of mangrove (e.g., Rhizophora mangle) viviparous seeds or propagules. Results from the model simulations indicate that a regime shift from freshwater marsh to mangroves is sensitive to the duration of soil salinization through storm surge overwash and to the density of mangrove propagules or seedlings transported into the marsh. We parameterized our model with empirical hydrologic data collected from the period 2000–2010 at one mangrove–marsh ecotone location in southwestern Florida to forecast possible long-term effects of Hurricane Wilma (24 October 2005). The model indicated that the effects of that storm surge were too weak to trigger a regime shift at the sites we studied, 50 km south of the Hurricane Wilma eyewall, but simulations with more severe artificial disturbances were capable of causing substantial regime shifts.

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Acknowledgments

We appreciate the thorough and helpful reviews of two reviewers for the journal and one for USGS peer review. JJ was supported as Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, an Institute sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture through NSF Award #EF-0832858, with additional support from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. This research was partially supported the USGS project “A land of flowers on a latitude of deserts” funded by the National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center and supported by the FISCHS Project (Future Impacts of Sea Level Rise on Coastal Habitats and Species) at the USGS Southeast Ecological Science Center, funded by USGS Ecosystems Mapping and the USGS Greater Everglades Priority Ecosystems Science. This material was developed in collaboration with the Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research program under National Science Foundation Grant No. DBI-0620409.

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Jiang, J., DeAngelis, D.L., Anderson, G.H. et al. Analysis and Simulation of Propagule Dispersal and Salinity Intrusion from Storm Surge on the Movement of a Marsh–Mangrove Ecotone in South Florida. Estuaries and Coasts 37, 24–35 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-013-9666-4

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Keywords

  • Storm surge
  • Mangrove
  • Freshwater marsh
  • Ecotone
  • Overwash
  • Regime shift
  • Region of bistability
  • Alternative stable states