Mangroves: Resilience, protection from tsunamis, and responses to global climate change

Alongi, D.M. | Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science | 2008 | Peer Reviewed | Meta-analysis |


This review assesses the degree of resilience of mangroves to large, infrequent disturbance (tsunamis) and their role in coastal protection, and to chronic disturbance events (climate change) and the future of mangroves in the face of global change. From a geological perspective, mangroves come and go at considerable speed with the current distribution of forests a legacy of the Holocene, having undergone almost chronic disturbance as a result of fluctuations in sea-level. Mangroves have demonstrated considerable resilience over timescales commensurate with shoreline evolution. This notion is supported by evidence that soil accretion rates in Mangroves are currently keeping pace with mean sea-level rise. Further support for their resilience comes from patterns of recovery from natural disturbances (storms, hurricanes) which coupled with key life history traits, suggest pioneer-phase characteristics. Stand composition and forest structure are the result of a complex interplay of physiological tolerances and competitive interactions leading to a mosaic of interrupted or arrested succession sequences, in response to physical/chemical gradients and landform changes. The extent to which some or all of these factors come into play depends on the frequency, intensity, size, and duration of the disturbance. Mangroves may in certain circumstances offer limited protection from tsunamis; some models using realistic forest variables suggest significant reduction in tsunami wave flow pressure for forests at least 100 m in width. The magnitude of energy absorption strongly depends on tree density, stem and root diameter, shore slope, bathymetry, spectral characteristics of incident waves, and tidal stage upon entering the forest. The ultimate disturbance, climate change, may lead to a maximum global loss of 10e15% of mangrove forest, but must be considered of secondary importance compared with current average annual rates of 1e2% deforestation. A large reservoir of below-ground nutrients, rapid rates of nutrient flux and microbial decomposition, complex and highly efficient biotic controls, self design and redundancy of keystone species, and numerous feedbacks, all contribute to mangrove resilience to various types of disturbance.