Leaves, Twigs, Roots

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Science  02 Nov 2001:
Vol. 294, Issue 5544, pp. 961
DOI: 10.1126/science.294.5544.961c

Mangrove forests fringe the shores of estuaries, islands, and reefs in many parts of the tropics. There is concern that the protective character of these intertidal ecosystems will be lost if they are unable to keep pace with the rise in sea level that is expected in the wake of climate warming. In many mangrove systems, the necessary vertical accretion would depend largely on peat accumulation, because inputs of sediment from outside the system are often negligible.

In a study of litter production and decomposition in a Belizean mangrove ecosystem, Middleton and McKee show that peat formation is primarily the result of deposition of root material; litter from leaves and twigs tends to degrade more rapidly, and it is promptly recycled through the system via detritivores such as crabs. With these results in hand, it will be possible to generate more accurate models of how mangrove forests respond to climate change and to develop management strategies for their protection.—AMS

J. Ecol.89, 818 (2001).

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