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Tipping Points in the Mangrove March: Characterization of Biogeochemical Cycling Along the Mangrove–Salt Marsh Ecotone

  • Havalend E. Steinmuller
  • Tammy E. Foster
  • Paul Boudreau
  • C. Ross Hinkle
  • Lisa G. ChambersEmail author


Coastal wetland vegetation communities can respond to sea level rise via the encroachment of more salt- and inundation-tolerant species into existing vegetation communities. Black mangroves (Avicennia germinans L.) are encroaching on saltgrass (Distichlis spicata L.) within the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in east central Florida (USA). Nine soil cores collected along three transects captured the transitions of both perceived abiotic drivers (salinity and inundation) and vegetation communities during both high- and low-water seasons to investigate patterns in soil biogeochemical cycling of carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P). Results showed no change in soil carbon dioxide production along the ecotone during either season, though changes in enzyme activity and mineralization rates of N and P could indicate changes in C quality and nutrient availability affecting C degradation along the ecotone. All parameters, excluding microbial biomass carbon, showed higher rates of activity or availability during the low-water season. Long-term soil nutrient stores (total C, N, P) were greatest in the saltgrass soils and similar between the mangrove and transition zone soils, indicating a ‘tipping point’ in biogeochemical function where the transition zone is functionally equivalent to the encroaching mangrove zone. Indicators of current biogeochemical cycling (that is, enzyme activity, potentially mineralizable N rates, and extractable ammonium concentrations) showed alterations in activity across the ecotone, with the transition zone often functioning with lower activity than within end members. These indicators of current biogeochemical cycling change in advance of full vegetation shifts. Increases in salinity and inundation were linked to mangrove encroachment.


mangrove encroachment decomposition nutrient availability coastal wetlands blue carbon biogeochemical cycling sea level rise 



The authors would like to thank the entirety of the Aquatic Biogeochemistry Laboratory for their field assistance, especially Dr. Joshua Breithaupt and Nia Hurst for their helpful comments on the manuscript. We would also like to acknowledge Russell Lowers and Dr. Paul Schmalzer for their help in the field and invaluable knowledge of the site.

Supplementary material

10021_2019_411_MOESM1_ESM.docx (24 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 24 kb)


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of Central FloridaOrlandoUSA
  2. 2.Kennedy Space Center Ecological Program, IMSS-300Kennedy Space CenterBrevard CountyUSA

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