Linkages between mangrove forests and coral reefs : quantifying disturbance effects and energy flow between systems Public Deposited


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  • Interface habitats are considered valuable natural systems, tightly linked to adjacent habitats through the flow of matter and energy. However, there is limited research on mechanisms of connectivity such as movement of organisms and particulate matter and ways in which anthropogenic disturbance to interface habitats may affect immediate and adjacent ecosystems. Mangrove forests, a common interface habitat in tropical coastal zones, once lined much of the tropical and subtropical shores worldwide. However, anthropogenic influences on these systems have led to a ~35% reduction in mangrove area over the last fifty years. In light of the perceived importance of mangrove forests as coastal habitat, the rapid decline of this habitat type, and the potential implications of mangrove habitat loss to adjacent ecosystems, it is important to build upon the current state of knowledge for mangrove forests. The chapters in this dissertation report on the following topics. First I review the published literature to examine the available evidence for connections between mangrove forests and coral reefs. I synthesize previous research findings, highlight areas of future research priorities, and propose a conceptual model of how areas of mangrove disturbance and resulting impacts on coral reefs are related. Second, I assess the effects of mangrove clearing on the immediate habitat. I examine how the physical environment changes following mangrove clearing by examining abiotic factors. I also measure changes in algal biomass and diversity to determine what effects physical changes have on the primary producer community. My results indicate that mangrove clearing has dramatic effects on both the physical and biotic environment. Based on measured changes in abiotic and biotic conditions, K. Frasier and I investigate how larval and zooplankton communities differ between intact and cleared mangrove areas. We find that diversity and community composition differ between intact and cleared mangrove areas, highlighting an additional effect of mangrove disturbance with potential implications for adjacent systems. To address the unanswered question of whether and how abiotic and biotic changes in cleared mangrove areas impact adjacent coral reefs, I repeat and expand upon the study I had conducted on abiotic and biotic changes following mangrove removal. The results in the immediate habitat indicate that the effects of mangrove disturbance are broad. Results from the reefs indicate that mangrove disturbance does have effects on adjacent coral reefs. To determine the relative importance of mangrove-derived nutrients to adjacent coral reef ecosystems and to examine how distance from mangroves to reefs and clearing of mangroves affected energy transfer, I sample sessile reef invertebrates. I employ carbon, nitrogen and sulfur stable isotope analysis as a tool to evaluate whether sessile invertebrates: corals, sponges, a bivalve and feather duster worm, utilize mangrovederived nutrients. Though the pattern varies by taxon, this research provides evidence that sessile reef invertebrates utilize mangrove-derived nutrients. Finally, I examine the effect of two consecutive storm events, the 2005 Tropical Storm (later Category 5 Hurricane) Wilma and the subsequent Tropical Storm Gamma, on the coastal zone. The retention rate of field equipment following storm events provides a picture of how coastal protection changes following anthropogenic mangrove disturbance and the implications of continuing mangrove loss as storm frequency and intensity increase in parallel with climate change. These studies provide new evidence on the effects of disturbance to mangroves on coastal and reef systems. Many new research areas are raised by the results presented here. However, these data provide a useful framework for considering conservation and management strategies for mangrove forest – coral reef systems.
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