The ecology of Belizean mangrove-root fouling communities: patterns of epibiont distribution and abundance, and effects on root growth

  • Aaron M. Ellison
  • Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
Conference paper
Part of the Developments in Hydrobiology book series (DIHY, volume 80)


The aerial prop roots of the neotropical red mangrove, Rhizophora mangle L., begin growing well above highest high water (HHW) and often extend well below lowest low water (LLW) before rooting in the benthic substratum. In Belize, Central America, prop roots growing below LLW are colonized by diverse assemblages of organisms, including macroalgae, hydrozoans, ascidians, sponges, anemones, hard corals, and isopod crustaceans. Mangroves, root-fouling epibionts, root herbivores, and benthic predators engage in complex interactions that are major determinants of mangrove growth and production. Species richness of root epibionts increases with distance from the mainland and with proximity to the barrier reef. Species richness decreases with variability in water temperature and salinity. Ascidians and sponges transplanted from Lark Cay into the coastal Placencia Lagoon failed to survive, but anemones from Lark Cay survived in Placencia Lagoon. Reciprocal transplants survived off-shore. The gastropod predator, Melongena melongena L., present only in mainland estuaries, reduced local barnacle abundance and epibiont species richness in Placencia Lagoon. Isopod species richness also increases with distance from shore, but the number of roots bored by these species decreases. These isopods can reduce root relative growth rate (RGRroot) by 55%. On off-shore cays, sponges and ascidians ameliorate negative effects of isopods. In mainland estuaries where epibionts are less common, isopod damage to roots is more severe. Experimental studies in mangrove swamps throughout the world would clarify the importance of plant-animal interactions in these widespread tropical ecosystems.

Key words

Belize epibionts isopods mangroves Melongena Rhizophora mangle 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Aaron M. Ellison
    • 1
    • 2
  • Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Biological Sciences, Clapp LaboratoryMount Holyoke CollegeSouth HadleyUSA
  2. 2.Field Naturalist Program, Department of BotanyUniversity of VermontBurlingtonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Biological LaboratoriesHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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