Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mangrove Swamps

The latest edition of the National Geographic Magazine contains an article regarding the Mesoamerican Reef.  Mangrove swamps are a critical component of the reef ecosystem as they prevent sediment and other pollutants from reaching the coral reef, break wave energy thereby protecting sea grass pastures, and provide shelter and nursery space for a variety of marine organisms.

From the article:
Mangroves are not just a convenience for [parrotfish] Scarus guacamaia. They are a necessity. When mangroves are carved away, to make room for tourist venues, for example, the species tends to go locally extinct, with repercussions in all directions. Coevolution has brought the coral reef and its parrotfish into balance; when the horny-beaked herbivores are fished out or otherwise eliminated, the reef declines, its corals overgrown by carpets of the algae the parrotfish normally eat.

John Muir told us what we can expect when humans with their habits begin to unravel a sound ecosystem. “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe,” he wrote. The parrotfish are a case in point. The Mesoamerican Reef is one section of the universe where the hitches are particularly tight.
Prothonotary Warbler - Mark Musselman

You may have been wondering why this blog's subject is a reef system thousands of miles away from Four Holes Swamp.  Note the John Muir wrote "universe."  Depending on when one starts to pick, those hitched to an ecosystem may not even be present.  Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea) breed at the Francis Beidler Forest and the eastern United States, but they spend the winter in mangrove swamps in Central America and the northern coast of South America.  Therefore, the clearing of mangrove swamp for development and tourism is not simply a local issue affecting the reef ecosystem, but it is a hemispheric issue affecting birds we expect to return north in the spring.

Picking at the mangrove swamps reduces the number of Prothonotary Warblers surviving their winter, which in turn means few birds eating insects or feeding insects to their chicks on their breeding territories in the United States, which means fewer eggs or chicks to feed raccoons or rat snakes, which...leads us to discover that it's "hitched to everything in the universe."

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