Paddling with Skeletons
So, some thoughts –
1. Most of these mangrove forests will not recover quickly. The scientific literature suggests that red mangroves cut or broken near the bottom do not resprout. Salinity control and aeration in red mangrove roots depend on energy produced by photosynthesis. With no leaves, there is no source of energy, a factor that likely leads to lack of internal salt control and mortality. Roots can also be smothered by fine materials.
2. Lack of propagules will slow recolonization.
3. There may be more mortality over the next few years.
4. Locations of mangrove forests may shift. Several studies, in particular (Cahoon et al., 2003, https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1046/j.1365-2745.2003.00841.x) have found that in areas of mass mortality and significant organic content in the mangrove swamp soils, the soils experienced subsidence after mortality, while in areas where survival was high, accretion occurred. On Big Pine Key, our group also observed that some bays had silted in which could lead to new areas suitable for mangrove colonization (or not, depending on silt content). Large areas near Cudjoe Key and Boot Island (near Marathon) have the potential to become centers of recruitment since they were dominated by small mangroves with good survival. Some reports suggest that some of these same areas may have developed initially as an aftermath of the 1935 hurricane which apparently eliminated extensive areas of black mangrove swamps.
5. Indirect effects, such as pollution and sea level rise will likely affect regrowth. A 2004 Smithsonian sponsored study in the Indian River Lagoon after it was hit by hurricanes Francis and Jeanne found that pollution increased growth rates of black mangroves but made them more susceptible to wind damage. Sea level rise will likely affect the distribution of areas with appropriate water level ranges for mangrove establishment.
6. The coastal hammocks looked like they might recover fairly quickly where the majority of the trees were still standing. We saw new leaves on many trees in coastal hammocks in the Keys. However, there could be shifts in species composition especially if there was extensive soil erosion or sand deposition. Where large numbers of trees were blown down, recovery will be a long process.