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Mangrove forest structure and sediment characteristics were examined in the extensive mangroves of Bocas del Toro, Republic of Panama. Forest structure was characterized to determine if spatial vegetation patterns were repeated over the Bocas del Toro landscape. Using a series of permanent plots and transects we found that the forests of Bocas del Toro were dominated by Rhizophora mangle with very few individuals of Avicennia germinans and Laguncularia racemosa. Despite this low species diversity, there was large variation in forest structure and in edaphic conditions (salinity, concentration of available phosphorus, Eh and sulphide concentration). Aboveground biomass varied 20-fold, from 6.8 Mg ha-1 in dwarf forests to 194.3 Mg ha-1 in the forests fringing the land. But variation in forest structure was predictable across the intertidal zone. There was a strong tree height gradient from seaward fringe (mean tree height 3.9 m), decreasing in stature in the interior dwarf forests (mean tree height 0.7 m), and increasing in stature in forests adjacent to the terrestrial forest (mean tree height 4.1 m). The predictable variation in forest structure emerges due to the complex interactions among edaphic and plant factors. Identifying predictable patterns in forest structure will aid in scaling up the ecosystem services provided by mangrove forests in coastal landscapes. Copyright 2005 College of Arts and Sciences.
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Variation in mangrove forest structure and sediment characteristics in Bocas del Toro, Panama