Ecosystems dominated by mangroves are among the most productive and complex in the world, anchoring a rich food web.
From Florida to Indonesia, mangrove swamps tend to proliferate at the margins of land and ocean. The tropical trees called mangroves aren’t necessarily closely related to one another, but exhibit analogous adaptations — such as stilt roots and salt-excreting leaves — to contend with their brackish habitat. With the relentless mixing of waters and the density of the vegetation, massive quantities of detritus provide ecosystem fuel. Red mangroves in riverine forests, for example, may annually produce about four tons of organic matter per acre.
The protective shelter of mangrove roots and the magnitude of the food supply make mangrove ecosystems ideal nurseries for many marine organisms, from crustaceans to large ocean-going fish and mangrove play an important role in commercial fisheries.
Wading birds and seabirds often rear their young in huge mangrove rookeries, taking advantage of the resources and the relative inaccessibility of the forest canopy to terrestrial predators.
Crabs flourish in these estuarine forests, feeding on leaf litter and insects while falling prey themselves to birds, juvenile fish and other predators.
High tides bring in marine fish and sea snakes, while hermit crabs, mudskippers, raccoons and other mudflat hunters emerge at low tide.
In the Americas, West Africa and Australia, herbivorous marine mammals called manatees and dugongs also utilise the habitat.
Crocodiles tend to excel in these intertidal environments. Estuarine crocs are well-distributed in the mangrove wilds of South and Southeast Asia and Australasia, and from South Florida to Ecuador have a counterpart in the American crocodile.
Sharks are also important mangrove predators worldwide.
A unique population of Bengal tigers resides in the vast Sundarbans mangrove swamps along the Bay of Bengal.
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