Elevation and Distribution of Freshwater and Sewage Canals Regulate Canopy Structure and Differentiate Hurricane Damages to a Basin Mangrove Forest
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Elevation and Distribution of Freshwater and Sewage Canals Regulate Canopy Structure and Differentiate Hurricane Damages to a Basin Mangrove Forest

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  • Journal Title:
    Remote Sensing
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    The coastal mangrove forest bears important ecosystem functions and services, including the protection of shorelines and coastal communities. While coastal mangroves often suffer severe damage during storms, understanding the vulnerability and resistance of mangroves to the damage at a landscape scale is crucial for coastal mangrove management and conservation. In September 2017, two consecutive major hurricanes caused tremendous damage to the coastal mangroves in the Caribbean. By utilizing LiDAR data taken before and after the hurricanes in a basin mangrove forest in Northeast Puerto Rico, we analyzed the spatial variation of a canopy structure before the hurricanes and hurricane-induced canopy height reduction and explored possible drivers by means of spatial regressions. Regarding the canopy structure, we found that the pre-hurricane canopy height of the mangrove forest decreased with elevation and distance to the freshwater/sewage canals within the forest, and these two drivers explained 82% of variations in the mangrove canopy height. The model, thus, implies that freshwater and nutrient inputs brought by the canals tend to promote the canopy height, and mangrove trees at lower elevation are especially more advantageous. Similarly, tree densities decreased with the canopy height but increased with the elevation and the distance to the canals. We also found that this mangrove forest suffered on average a 53% canopy height reduction, reflecting mostly heavy crown defoliation and the rupture of branches. The regression, which explains 88% of spatial variation in the canopy height reduction, showed that mangroves with a higher canopy or lower density, or growing in lower elevation, or being closer to the canals suffered more damage. Our findings indicate that delivered freshwater/sewage by means of human-made canals has a strong impact on the canopy structure as well as its resistance to tropical storms. Freshwater and sewage tend to release the salinity stress and nutrient deficit and, thus, to promote the mangrove canopy height. However, the addition of freshwater and nutrients might also increase the risk of mangrove damage during the storms probably because of an altered allometry of assimilates.
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    Remote Sensing, 13(17), 3387
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    CC BY
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