Sunday, March 29, 2009

like sesame seeds in a sandbox

Field season has not yet truly begun here in New England (we're still anxiously awaiting budburst!), but I have been spending some time in the field, investigating barnacle recruitment in Narragansett Bay. Here, the intertidal barnacle Semibalanus balanoides reproduces in the fall and broods its larvae until the winter. Larvae are released in January and develop in the water column for about a month and begin to settle in February and March. They settle as cyprids, a larval stage that looks an awful lot like a sesame seed (see photos). In the cyprid stage, the barnacles decide where on the shore to settle and attach, based on chemical cues from adult barnacles and surface texture. This is a critical moment in a barnacle's life - after metamorphosis, it will be stuck in the same place for the rest of its sessile adult life.

Click here for full size photos.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Mangrove restoration suggestion

My collaborator, Brian Silliman, and I published a comment this month in the British scientific journal Ambio about incorporating into mangrove restoration design plans the natural capacity of wetland plants to reduce environmental stress for them and their neighbors . Here is an excerpt (references omitted):
Using Facilitation Theory to Enhance Mangrove Restoration
Most mangrove restorations around the world, including the Philippines example, plant mangroves as single seedlings, evenly spaced, in rows. This configuration is based on the assumption that competition among seedlings needs to be minimized to foster establishment and growth. Thus seedlings need to be spaced well away from each other to maximize light availability and minimize competition between neighbors. However, whereas light availability can be a limiting factor at later stages in mangrove forest development, the limiting growth factors at the initial stages of mangrove establishment are edaphic stressors, such as low redox potential and high soil salinity, as recognized by the Samson and Rollon. Because coastal wetland plants engineer the substrate to ameliorate these harmful conditions, an effect that increases with wetland plant density, seedlings are likely to exhibit positive, not negative, density dependence because of the facilitative effects of neighbors on ameliorating anoxic soil conditions.
Ecological theory and wetland experiments both predict that mangrove seedlings have a far better chance of survival if they are planted in clusters of several seedlings rather than plantation style. Planting seedlings in clusters will likely allow the necessary positive feedbacks to take root in the absence of adult plant roots or pneumatophores. For example, a black mangrove restoration in Mexico that planted five-seedling clusters resulted in notably high survival of planted seedlings (74%) after 4 years, despite being planted in a mudflat environment. Mangrove seedlings frequently suffer high rates of mortality, and clustered or redundant plantings allow surviving seedlings to compensate for lost neighbors. Nurse plants, which can serve the same purpose in a restoration as seedling clusters, promoting the facilitative species interactions that ameliorate abiotic stress, have also been found to improve mangrove restoration success. Higher plant densities have also been found to reduce herbivory on susceptible, young plants in other saline wetland environments.