Coastal mangrove–freshwater marsh ecotones of the Everglades represent transitions between marine salt-tolerant halophytic and freshwater salt-intolerant glycophytic communities. It is hypothesized here that a self-reinforcing feedback, termed a “vegetation switch,” between vegetation and soil salinity, helps maintain the sharp mangrove–marsh ecotone. A general theoretical implication of the switch mechanism is that the ecotone will be stable to small disturbances but vulnerable to rapid regime shifts from large disturbances, such as storm surges, which could cause large spatial displacements of the ecotone. We develop a simulation model to describe the vegetation switch mechanism. The model couples vegetation dynamics and hydrologic processes. The key factors in the model are the amount of salt-water intrusion into the freshwater wetland and the passive transport of mangrove (e.g., Rhizophora mangle) viviparous seeds or propagules. Results from the model simulations indicate that a regime shift from freshwater marsh to mangroves is sensitive to the duration of soil salinization through storm surge overwash and to the density of mangrove propagules or seedlings transported into the marsh. We parameterized our model with empirical hydrologic data collected from the period 2000–2010 at one mangrove–marsh ecotone location in southwestern Florida to forecast possible long-term effects of Hurricane Wilma (24 October 2005). The model indicated that the effects of that storm surge were too weak to trigger a regime shift at the sites we studied, 50 km south of the Hurricane Wilma eyewall, but simulations with more severe artificial disturbances were capable of causing substantial regime shifts.
Additional publication details
Analysis and simulation of propagule dispersal and salinity intrusion from storm surge on the movement of a marsh–mangrove ecotone in South Florida