UD doctoral student co-authors guide on Mexico’s Mangrove forests

Mangrove forests cover just 0.1 percent of the earth’s surface and yet they are seventy percent more productive than most terrestrial ecosystems.

In Mexico, specifically, mangroves cover 775,555 hectres. Their ability to offer ecosystem services such as sequestering atmospheric carbon dioxide into “blue carbon”—carbon stored in coastal ecosystems—working as nurseries for many commercial species of fish and preventing flooding and erosion events in coastal areas make them an invaluable environmental resource.

However, when it comes to uniformly studying mangrove forests, they present multiple challenges to researchers looking to coordinate their efforts at local, regional, national and international scales.

Alma and Rodrigo Vargas discussing mangrove forestsMangroves have a high rate of structural variability—meaning that it is possible to find one mangrove growing taller than 30 meters in one location and find the same species of mangrove growing less than one meter in height in a different location, mainly as consequence of different environmental conditions.

Because of this, the University of Delaware’s Alma Vazquez-Lule, in collaboration with researchers from academic, governmental and non-profit institutions, put together a guide to standardize the methods to monitor mangroves in Mexico at different scales, with the idea to generate data available for regional, national and international mangrove synthesis studies.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) collaborated with four Mexican institutions including the National Commission for Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO), Mexican Forest Service (CONAFOR), ProNatura and the Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature (FMCN).CONABIOin Mexico was the main institution that coordinated the effort for the guide.

“The guide includes different laboratory and fieldwork methods to characterize the forest structure of mangroves and to identify environmental variables that can help to explain and understand the high structural diversity of this ecosystem in Mexico,” said Vazquez-Lule, a doctoral student studying with Rodrigo Vargas, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The guide is geared towards everyone from mangroves experts, to students, technicians and stakeholders to identify the minimum requirements for mangrove monitoring projects.

“Because this guide is in Spanish, it also can be used for other Spanish speaking countries with mangroves in the rest of the Americas,” said Vazquez-Lule, which is important because Mangroves are distributed in the tropical and subtropical areas of the world, between the 30° N and 40° S latitudes that include many Spanish speaking countries.

Alma Vazquez-Lule and Rodrigo Vargas pose with book about Mangrove forests in MexicoThe guide is divided into 8 chapters with each chapter following an order considering the implementation of a mangroves characterization project or mangrove monitoring project.

In addition to writing the introduction, Vazquez-Lule also co-authored chapter 8 with Vargas which focuses on potential studies of synthesis in the mangroves of Mexico with the idea to explain the mangroves ecological processes at different spatial scales.

“The chapter was done to direct actions for a better understanding of mangroves ecosystem processes in Mexico through the synthesis and integration of mangrove data collected at different scales,” said Vazquez-Lule.

Vargas said that he was thrilled to have Vazquez-Lule co-author such a high-profile guide that could have international implications.

“I think that’s extremely important to recognize that she is a collaborator for the leadership of this guide and I think it’s important for the need for standardization because not every mangrove forest is the same and the techniques that can be applied in one country may not be relevant for the specific characteristics of the mangroves of a different country. That is why it’s important to have these efforts and document them, to improve the inventories for educational purposes, technical accuracy, replicability, reproducibility, standardization and harmonization,” said Vargas.

Blue carbon has been a priority for Vargas’ lab as he received a prestigious National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development award to study blue carbon at the St. Jones Reserve in Delaware.

Vargas is also involved in a NASA project that stresses the importance of sharing data across institutions, countries and agencies to map carbon dynamics throughout Mexico.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Monica Moriak