Global changes are causing broad-scale shifts in vegetation communities worldwide, including coastal habitats where the borders between mangroves and salt marsh are in flux. Coastal habitats provide numerous ecosystem services of high economic value, but the consequences of variation in mangrove cover are poorly known. We experimentally manipulated mangrove cover in large plots to test a set of linked hypotheses regarding the effects of changes in mangrove cover. We found that changes in mangrove cover had strong effects on microclimate, plant community, sediment accretion, soil organic content, and bird abundance within 2 yr. At higher mangrove cover, wind speed declined and light interception by vegetation increased. Air and soil temperatures had hump-shaped relationships with mangrove cover. The cover of salt marsh plants decreased at higher mangrove cover. Wrack cover, the distance that wrack was distributed from the water's edge, and sediment accretion decreased at higher mangrove cover. Soil organic content increased with mangrove cover. Wading bird abundance decreased at higher mangrove cover. Many of these relationships were non-linear, with the greatest effects when mangrove cover varied from zero to intermediate values, and lesser effects when mangrove cover varied from intermediate to high values. Temporal and spatial variation in measured variables often peaked at intermediate mangrove cover, with ecological consequences that are largely unexplored. Because different processes varied in different ways with mangrove cover, the "optimum" cover of mangroves from a societal point of view will depend on which ecosystem services are most desired.
Keywords: coastal ecosystem; ecosystem function; foundation species; mangrove; regime shift; salt marsh.
© 2016 by the Ecological Society of America.