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Regeneration of Rhizophora mangle in a Caribbean mangrove forest:
interacting effects of canopy disturbance and a stem-boring beetle

Wayne P. Sousa · Swee P. Quek · Betsy J. Mitchell

Current theory predicts that in low-density, seed-limited plant populations, seed predation will be more important than competition in determining the number of individuals that reach maturity. However, when plant density is high, competition for microsites suitable for establishment and growth is expected to have a relatively greater effect. This dichotomous perspective does not account for situations in which the risk of seed predation differs inside versus outside recruitment microsites. We report the results of a field experiment and sampling studies that demonstrate such an interaction between microsite quality and the risk of propagule predation in mangrove forests on the Caribbean coast of Panama, where it appears to play a key role in shaping the demography and dynamics of the mangrove, Rhizophora mangle. Rhizophora’s water-borne propagules establish wherever they strand, but long-term sampling revealed that only those that do so in or near lightning-created canopy gaps survive and grow to maturity. These microsites afford better growth conditions than the surrounding understory and, as importantly, provide a refuge from predation by the scolytid beetle, Coccotrypes rhizophorae. This refuge effect was confirmed with a field experiment in which Rhizophora seedlings were planted at different positions relative to gap edges, from 5 m inside to 20 m outside the gap. Mortality due to beetle attack increased linearly from an average of 10% inside a gap to 72% at 20 m into the forest. The interaction between canopy disturbance and propagule predation may be having a large impact on the composition of our study forests. Being shade-tolerant, Rhizophora seedlings that escape or survive beetle attack can persist in the understory for years. However, the high rate of beetleinduced mortality effectively eliminates the contribution of advance regeneration by Rhizophora saplings to gap succession. This may explain why the shade-intolerant mangrove, Laguncularia racemosa, is able to co-dominate the canopy in low intertidal forests at our study sites.


Advance regeneration · Coccotrypes rhizophorae · Light gap · Panama · Propagule predation

This experiment ran for several months, a short period relative to the time course of forest regeneration. To evaluate whether its results meaningfully predicted patterns and processes of stand regeneration over longer periods, we examined multiannual sampling data on the size-structure of Rhizophora trees in relatively undisturbed stands and on patterns of natural regeneration in representative light gaps. As we demonstrate, patterns at these larger spatial and temporal scales are entirely consistent with our experimental findings. These complementary lines of evidence strongly suggest that Coccotrypes is having a major influence on the dynamics of mangrove forest regeneration following disturbance by lightning.

mangrove mangrove
Source :
Oecologia (2003) 137:436–445 DOI 10.1007/s00442-003-1350-0

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