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Mangroves of the Caribbean
Rützler, Klaus, and Ilka C. Feller.
Caribbean Mangrove Swamps. Scientific America.

Mangrove swamps are unique biological environments which occur where land and sea come together. The term “mangrove” refers to vascular plants that have developed physiological mechanisms for living in shallow seawater. The plants in mainland mangrove swamps must develop ways of coping with differences in salinity as they experience freshwater streams from the inland as well as salty ocean water. The plants in oceanic-island mangrove swamps must deal with the shifts in salinity that result from heavy rain or evaporation.

In Belize, an oceanic-island mangrove range called Twin Cays is being studied. Established 7,000 years ago, this mangrove swamp community is host to three types of mangrove trees: red mangroves (Rhizophora mangle), black mangroves (Avicennia germinans), and white mangroves (Laguncularia racemosa). The red mangroves live in deeper water and have stilt-like roots. The black mangroves, which have a high salinity tolerance, live at the upper reaches of the uppertidal zone. The white mangroves, which cannot tolerate the salinity and periodic flooding, live at higher ground.

The mangrove’s ability to live in fluctuating fresh/saline environments establishes a basis for other life systems. Once established, mangroves support the development of subsequent plant and animal life and provide protection for other species. The Twin Cays swamp is host to innumerous insects, lizards, snakes, and birds, as well as specialized beetles and moths. Aerial roots of mangrove trees support algae as well as barnacles, oysters, crabs, and small fish. Sea grass covers the sedimentary bottom of the swamp, where jellyfish, algae, worms, crustaceans, and the occasional manatee thrive.

Researchers estimate that between 20-30 percent of the marine life living in Twin Cays may be as of yet undiscovered species. In addition, it is thought that mangrove swamps protect coastlines from erosion, a major cause of soil-depletion. The mangrove swamp ecosystem is fragile, and the rich biodiversity found therein is at risk for degradation by human hands. Once cut down, mangrove trees and the ecosystems they sustain may never recover. Laws have been enacted by the Belizean government to protect the mangroves, yet they remain vulnerable to the effects of encroaching development.

mangrove mangrove
Source : American Botanical Council - HerbClip
FILE: Mangrove trees

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