The substrate beneath mangrove forests in the Pelican Cays complex is predominately peat composed mainly of mangrove roots. Leaves and wood account for less than 20% of the peat mass. At Cat Cay, the depth of the peat ranges from 0.2 m along the shoreline to 1.65 m in the island center, indicating that the island has expanded horizontally as well as vertically through below-ground, biogenic processes. Mangrove roots thus play a critical role in the soil formation, vertical accretion, and stability of these mangrove cays. The species composition of fossil roots changes markedly with depth: Rhizophora mangle (red mangrove) was the initial colonizer on a coral base, followed by Avicennia germinans (black mangrove), which increased in abundance and expanded radially from the center of the island. The center of the Avicennia stand ultimately died, leaving an unvegetated, shallow pond. The peat thus retains a record of mangrove development, succession, and deterioration in response to sea-level change and concomitant hydroedaphic conditions controlling dispersal, establishment, growth, and mortality of mangroves on oceanic islands in Belize.