What is a Mangrove?

Learn About Mangroves and Marine Life in Mangrove Swamps

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Their unusual, dangling roots make mangroves look like trees on stilts. The term mangrove can be used to refer to certain species of trees or shrubs, a habitat or a swamp. This article focuses on the definition of mangroves and mangrove swamps, where mangroves are located and marine species you can find in mangroves. 

What Is a Mangrove?

Mangrove plants are halophytic (salt-tolerant) plant species, of which there are more than 12 families and 80 species worldwide. A collection of mangrove trees in an area makes up a mangrove habitat, mangrove swamp or mangrove forest. 

Mangrove trees have a tangle of roots which are often exposed above water, leading to the nickname “walking trees.”

Where Are Mangrove Swamps?

Mangrove trees grow in intertidal or estuarine areas. They are found in warmer areas between the latitudes of 32 degrees north and 38 degrees south, as they need to live in areas where the average annual temperature is above 66 degrees Fahrenheit.

It is thought that mangroves were originally found in southeast Asia, but have been disbursed around the world and are now found along the tropical and subtropical coasts of Africa, Australia, Asia, and North and South America. In the U.S., mangroves are commonly found in Florida.

Mangrove Adaptations

The roots of mangrove plants are adapted to filter salt water, and their leaves can excrete salt, allowing them to survive where other land plants cannot. Leaves that fall off the trees provide food for inhabitants and breakdown to provide nutrients to the habitat. 

Why Are Mangroves Important?

Mangroves are an important habitat. These areas provide food, shelter and nursery areas for fish, birds, crustaceans and other marine life. They also provide a source of livelihood for many humans around the world, including wood for fuel, charcoal and timber and areas for fishing. Mangroves also form a buffer that defends coastlines from flooding and erosion.

What Marine Life Are Found in Mangroves?

Many types of marine and terrestrial life utilize mangroves. Animals inhabit the mangrove’s leafy canopy and waters underneath the mangrove’s root system and live in nearby tidal waters and mudflats.

In the U.S., larger species found in mangroves include reptiles such as the American crocodile and American alligator; sea turtles including the hawksbill, Ridley, green and loggerhead; fish such as snapper, tarpon, jack, sheepshead, and red drum; crustaceans such as shrimp and crabs; and coastal and migratory birds such as pelicans, spoonbills and bald eagles. In addition, less-visible species such as insects and crustaceans live among the roots and branches of the mangrove plants.

Threats to Mangroves:

  • Natural threats to mangroves include hurricanes, root clogging from increased water turbidity, and damage from boring organisms and parasites.
  • Human impacts on mangroves have been severe in some places, and include dredging, filling, diking, oil spills, and runoff of human waste and herbicides. Some coastal development results in total loss of habitat.

Conservation of mangroves is important for the survival of mangrove species, humans and also for the survival of two other habitats – coral reefs and seagrass beds.

References and Further Information:

  • American Museum of Natural History. What Is a Mangrove? And How Does it Work?. Accessed June 30, 2015.
  • Coulombe, D. A. 1984. The Seaside Naturalist. Simon & Schuster. 246pp.
  • Law, Beverly E. and Nancy P. Arny. “Mangroves-Florida’s Coastal Trees”. University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service. Retrieved online October 17, 2008 (as of August 2010, the document appears to no longer be online).
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Kennedy, Jennifer. "What is a Mangrove?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/what-is-a-mangrove-2291773. Kennedy, Jennifer. (2021, February 16). What is a Mangrove? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-mangrove-2291773 Kennedy, Jennifer. "What is a Mangrove?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-mangrove-2291773 (accessed June 10, 2023).