Nutrient enrichment shifts mangrove height distribution: Implications for coastal woody encroachment
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Global changes, such as increased temperatures and elevated CO2, are driving shifts in plant species distribution and dominance, like woody plant encroachment into grasslands. Local factors within these ecotones can influence the rate of regime shifts. Woody encroachment is occurring worldwide, though there has been limited research within coastal systems, where mangrove (woody shrub/tree) stands are expanding into salt marsh areas. Because coastal systems are exposed to various degrees of nutrient input, we investigated how nutrient enrichment may locally impact mangrove stand expansion and salt marsh displacement over time. We fertilized naturally co-occurring Avicennia germinans (black mangrove) and Spartina alterniflora (smooth cordgrass) stands in Port Aransas, TX, an area experiencing mangrove encroachment within the Northern Gulf of Mexico mangrove-marsh ecotone. After four growing seasons (2010-2013) of continuous fertilization, Avicennia was more positively influenced by nutrient enrichment than Spartina. Most notably, fertilized plots had a higher density of taller (> 0.5 m) mangroves and mangrove maximum height was 46% taller than in control plots. Fertilization may promote an increase in mangrove stand expansion within the mangrove-marsh ecotone by shifting Avicennia height distribution. Avicennia individuals, which reach certain species-specific height thresholds, have reduced negative neighbor effects and have higher resilience to freezing temperatures, which may increase mangrove competitive advantage over marsh grass. Therefore, we propose that nutrient enrichment, which augments mangrove height, could act locally as a positive feedback to mangrove encroachment, by reducing mangrove growth suppression factors, thereby accelerating the rates of increased mangrove coverage and subsequent marsh displacement. Areas within the mangrove-marsh ecotone with high anthropogenic nutrient input may be at increased risk of a regime shift from grass to woody dominated ecosystems.
author list (cited authors)
Weaver, C. A., & Armitage, A. R.