Mangrove expansion on the low wooded islands of the Great Barrier Reef

Publication Name

Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences


Mangrove forests are the dominant vegetation growing on low wooded islands, which occur in the Caribbean, Indian and Pacific Oceans. In the northern Great Barrier Reef, we map remarkable, undocumented mangrove forest extension on 10 low wooded islands in the Howick Group that collectively equates to an area of 667 000 m2 (66.7 ha). We combine extensive field survey with canopy height models derived from RPA imagery and allometric scaling to quantify above ground biomass in both old (pre-1973) and new (post-1973) forest areas. Forest expansion added approximately 10 233 tonnes of new biomass since the early 1970s. We suggest that such substantial expansion of mangrove forest has occurred within a short time span in response to changing environmental controls. These may include sea-level rise, sediment transport and deposition, cyclone impact and the development of associated reef flat sedimentary landforms including unconsolidated and lithified shingle ridges, which influence reef flat hydrodynamics. Our observations highlight the globally dynamic response of mangrove distribution and forest structure to environmental change and provide timely new estimates from understudied reef island settings.

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