Mangroves invading Texas salt marshes: does it matter?

2012-2014 - $290,875

Steve Pennings
UH, Biology and Biochemistry

Abstract

On the Texas coast, mangroves regularly expand from persistent populations into salt marshes during periods with warm winters, and occasionally contract in distribution during periods with severe freezes.  Over the coming decades, mangrove distributions are expected to continue expanding due to rising global temperatures and milder winters.  As a result, large areas of the Texas coast that historically have been dominated by salt marshes will become dominated by mangroves.  Will this matter?  We hypothesize that that changes in coastal vegetation are likely to change the quality of coastal wetlands for supporting shrimp, fish and birds, and change the ability of coastal habitats to buffer wind and wave energy.  We will test this hypothesis using a combination of field sampling and a manipulative experiment, working around and within the domain of the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve.  Our work will provide information on which ecosystem services provided by coastal wetlands are most likely to be affected by the change from salt marsh to mangroves.  This information will allow coastal industries such as fisheries and tourism to be adaptively managed in response to ongoing and future changes in the biological environment.