Aim: Mangrove canopy height is a key metric to assess tidal forests' resilience in the face of climate change. In terrestrial forests, tree height is primarily determined by water availability, plant hydraulic design, and disturbance regime. However, the role of water stress remains elusive in tidal environments, where saturated soils are prevalent, and salinity can substantially affect the soil water potential. Location: Global. Time Period: The canopy height dataset provides a global snapshot of the maximum mangrove height geographical distribution for the year 2000. Climate and environmental variables extend over the period 1970–2018. Major Taxa Studied: Mangroves. Methods: We use global observations of maximum canopy height, species richness, air temperature, and seawater salinity—a proxy of soil water salt concentration—to explore the causal link between salinity and mangrove stature. Results: Our findings suggest that salt stress limits mangrove height. High salinity favours more salt-tolerant species, narrowing the spectrum of viable traits. Highly salt-tolerant mangroves have evolved to cope with high salt concentrations in the soil, but this adaptation comes at a cost. They typically have lower rates of photosynthesis and growth, resulting in reduced productivity and smaller stature compared to more salt-sensitive mangrove species. This suggests a causal link between salinity, biodiversity, and tree height, where high salinity selects for more salt-tolerant species that tend to be less productive and shorter. Conclusions: We hypothesize that the salinity-induced limit to mangrove canopy height is the direct result of a reduction of primary productivity, an increment in the risk of xylem cavitation, and an indirect consequence of the decrease in biodiversity. As sea-level rise enhances coastal salinisation, failure to account for these effects can lead to incorrect estimates of future carbon stocks in Tropical coastal ecosystems and endanger preservation efforts.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Global and Planetary Change
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- canopy height
- salt stress
- water stress