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A closer look at mangrove forests

Different microhabitats within these ecosystems are key to larval forms of fish and other invertebrates.

It is widely known that mangrove ecosystems provide sheltered habitats that offer: protection from predators, abundant and diverse food, and physically intercept and concentrate planktonic larvae, for larval forms and juvenile fish. The structure of these forests and their intricate relationship with different abiotic factors offer an array of diverse microhabitats that at the same time support many forms of life. 

As a common remark, habitat heterogeneity contributes to the maintenance of species diversity and in the case of mangrove forests, many microhabitats can be described as part of this complex system. The properties of each microhabitat vary, especially with respect to the light intensity and sediment moisture content. For instance, the tidal creeks are wet and well-exposed to sunlight, whereas forest interiors are moist and dark, and the canopy gaps are dry and well exposed to sunlight (Koetsu et al. 2011).

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Microhabitats provide niche environments for numerous species, which may only exist within these microhabitats. Mangroves are also recognized as important spawning and nursery sites for many fish and invertebrate species. It was even found that marine estuarine-dependent larvae recruit into mangroves at even earlier stages than claimed, finding microscapes as corridors and temporary nurseries before settling into their juvenile habitat (Vorsatz et al. 2021). Another example of mangrove microhabitats is space within the water column, which has mechanically lower tidal influence, thus allowing a more stable environment for shelter and nurseries.

Microhabitats are becoming increasingly vulnerable to negative impacts of pollution and climate change, and these ecosystem dynamics could potentially be altered indefinitely. Putting at risk the fragile balance of coastal and marine ecosystems as well as potentially affecting the fishing industry. Therefore, it is of utmost relevance to manage these ecosystems in a sustainable and balanced manner to guarantee their ecological role.

The International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem, adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO in 2015 and celebrated each year on July 26, aims to raise awareness of the importance of mangrove ecosystems as “a unique, special and vulnerable ecosystem" and to promote solutions for their sustainable management, conservation and uses.

"Let us take action. Despite their immense importance to our own wellbeing, there is still a lot to do in order to stop the continuous loss of mangrove habitats. Based on science, with the support of environmental education and community involvement, we must conserve, restore and promote the sustainable use of mangrove ecosystems. Strengthening coastal UNESCO Biosphere Reserves and establishing new ones is a way to keep what we have and restore what we have lost."

—  Shamila Nair-Bedouelle, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences

 

Written by: Louise Collins

Style and format: Susana Barreto

Provita Jul 26, 2021

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