pp 1–13 | Cite as

Mangrove trees survive partial sediment burial by developing new roots and adapting their root, branch and stem anatomy

  • Judith Auma OkelloEmail author
  • James Gitundu Kairo
  • Farid Dahdouh-Guebas
  • Hans Beeckman
  • Nico Koedam
Original Article


Key message

Large sedimentation events resulting in partial burial may negatively affect mangrove trees’ growth and survival. However, mangroves can adapt to respond dynamically within months to sediment burial, attributes which confer resilience.


Mangrove forests are generally sites of sediment deposition at the coast facilitated by the unique root structure of the trees, thus serving to help the system keep pace with rising sea level. However, at high levels it can cause anoxia in sediments and consequently tree mortality. This study evaluates the morphological and anatomical response of bark and roots of three mangrove tree species (Avicennia marina, Ceriops tagal and Rhizophora mucronata), commonly found along the Kenya coast and around the Indian Ocean, to partial burial by sediment. This was done through simulation of natural and rapid sedimentation in an experiment involving 15, 30 and 45 cm burial levels. Partial sediment burial resulted in an increase in root density which also aided survival particularly in C. tagal, where 5 of the 17 buried trees that did not form new roots in the 45 cm treatment died. Air lacunae in the root cortex became larger in pneumatophores following burial, while the ray parenchyma and cylinder of secondary xylem showed increased widths in cable roots of C. tagal. There was also an induction of the phellogen which produced more outer tissue in the buried section of stems in all three studied species (two fold increase in A. marina and C. tagal and fourfold in R. mucronata). The results suggest that the observed morpho-anatomical adaptations could lead to enhanced performance or recovery of biological processes in the burial-affected trees.


Mangrove roots Adaptation Anatomy Sedimentation Bark 



The authors wish to acknowledge the financial support offered to this study by the Flemish Interuniversity Council-University Development Cooperation (VLIR-UOS, Flanders, Belgium) and the “Fonds Alice en David Van Buuren” (Brussels, Belgium). Additional funding was offered by the Western Indian Ocean Marine Scientists Association (WIOMSA). Support offered by Elisabeth Robert EMR in giving valuable comments to improve the write-up is also highly appreciated. The study was conducted under the framework of the VLIR-UOS International Course Programme (ICP) PhD.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

We do hereby declare that this work has not been published previously, except as an oral presentation during the 10th WIOMSA symposium held in Dar-es Salaam Tanzania in 2017. The publication has been approved by all authors and the institutions where the work was carried out. If accepted for publication in this journal, this work will not be published elsewhere including electronically in the same form, in English or in any other language, without the written consent of the copyright holder. We further state that there is no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

468_2019_1895_MOESM1_ESM.docx (5.9 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 6027 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI)MombasaKenya
  2. 2.Laboratory of Plant Biology and Nature Management (APNA)Vrije Universiteit BrusselBrusselsBelgium
  3. 3.Laboratory of Wood Biology and XylariumRoyal Museum for Central Africa (RMCA)TervurenBelgium
  4. 4.Laboratory of Systems Ecology and Resource ManagementUniversité libre de BruxellesBrusselsBelgium

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