CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – In the 1980s, black mangrove – a shrub that thrives in sandy and muddy shores – only populated about 65 acres of the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR), a wetland located in the western Gulf of Mexico. In the period between 1989-2015, mangroves expanded to cover approximately 21,500 acres of the same space and are predicted to continue to expand along the coast of Gulf of Mexico at the expense of salt marsh habitat, replacing salt marsh on 100 percent of the Texas coast and 95 percent of the Louisiana coast.
Dr. Brandi Kiel Reese, Assistant Professor of Microbial Ecology, and Dr. Lee Smee, Associate Professor of Biology, both of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, have recently been awarded a $95,000 grant from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as part of its Texas General Land Office Coastal Management Program, for their project titled, “Mangrove Expansion Alters Sediment and Water Quality and Affects Biodiversity in Texas Wetlands.” Rachel Weisend, Ph.D. student at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, will assist on the project as her dissertation research.
“Our study is relevant in that it supports the maintenance of healthy coastal ecosystems, and aims to protect, preserve and enhance diversity and quality,” said Reese. “This project sheds light on the impact of coastal mangrove expansion on biodiversity, which will be beneficial for managing the sediment and water quality in Texas.”
Black mangroves provide coastal protection, wildlife refuge and breeding ground for fisheries. The productivity of these mangroves plays an important role within the local and global carbon cycle. Reese and Smee’s study will help them understand the global carbon cycle, how changes in vegetation affect carbon, and how vegetation shifts affect animals that burrow in sediments near mangroves. These burrowing animals are components of food webs and help support important fisheries.
Reese and Smee will measure fluxes of carbon and other substances from the sediment, determine how these fluxes affect animals, and perform outreach to coastal conservation and management to local schools and civic groups. The team will collect data using state-of-the-art benthic flux chambers, mounted with sensors. Data will be deposited in the Biological and Chemical Oceanography Data Management Office and Smithsonian MarineGEO databases for public access.
“As part of the education and outreach, Dr. Reese will collaborate with Del Mar College to provide research opportunities to undergraduate students, while I will perform outreach with K-12 students and teachers at four public schools in Corpus Christi,” said Smee. “Also, we will collaborate with the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve to create education outreach modules for other elementary and middle school students.”
Grant funding will begin October 2017 and continue until 2019.