RAPID Collaborative Research: Do Mangroves Provide Better Coastal Protection Than Salt Marshes? A Hurricane Harvey Case Study From Port Aransas, Texas, USA
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Coastal marshes provide critical ecosystem services, including erosion prevention and shoreline protection from storm surges that often result when hurricanes make landfall. For several years, vegetation in coastal wetlands has been shifting from grasses and forbs to taller, woody mangroves, raising concerns about the impact these changes may have on these important ecosystem services. Over the past several years, scientists have been conducting a large mangrove removal experiment to study the ecological consequences of mangrove expansion near Port Aransas, Texas. Hurricane Harvey made landfall near this experiment, providing an unprecedented opportunity to study the immediate impacts of mangrove expansion on shoreline protection and other vital ecosystem services. This RAPID award will allow scientists to gain knowledge on the role of coastal wetlands that will be extremely valuable to coastal managers responsible for restoration and management projects along shorelines vulnerable to future hurricanes.This research will provide a critical understanding of the impact of mangrove expansion on the role of coastal wetlands in the provision of critical ecosystem services in response to intense storms. Hurricane Harvey provides a unique opportunity to answer a critical question - do mangroves provide fundamentally different shoreline protection than the low stature grasses and forbs they replace? The researchers conducting this study are using a pre-existing mangrove removal experiment that was in the path of the hurricane to test the hypothesis that large woody plants like mangroves are better able to resist these large storms, and therefore provide improved shoreline protection. This work will also provide a better conceptual understanding to the role of biotic factors in regulating the impact of large storms. This information is of critical importance to land managers responsible for restoring the ecosystem services coastal wetlands can provide.