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Title: Mangrove Trees Outperform Saltmarsh Grasses in Building Elevation but Collapse Rapidly Under High Rates of Sea‐Level Rise

Mangrove trees are invading saltmarshes at subtropical ecotones globally, but the consequences of this vegetation shift for ecosystem sustainability remain unknown. Using the Coastal Wetland Equilibrium Model (CWEM) to simulate vegetation survival and sediment accretion, we predict that black mangroves,Avicennia germinans, can build soil elevation by 8 mm yr−1, four times greater than saltmarshes at the same site, a finding that is broadly consistent with field measurements of elevation change. Mangroves build elevation more rapidly than saltmarshes by producing much greater live and labile belowground biomass, but when mangroves drown, they abruptly lose elevation due to the large volume of quickly decomposing necromass following flood‐induced mortality. Under certain conditions, young mangroves can accumulate root mass faster than mature trees and, therefore, gain elevation more rapidly, but neither saltmarshes nor mangroves of any age survived a centenary sea‐level increase of 100 cm. The acceleration of sea‐level rise that coastal marshes are encountering raises the question of how coastal wetlands should be optimally managed and these results provide managers with predictive information on wetland building capacity of mangroves versus marshes.

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Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Earth's Future
DOI PREFIX: 10.1029
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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