After sustaining seemingly catastrophic hurricane damage, a primordial land cover vital to sustaining a multitude of coastal lifeforms sprang back to life within months.
The discovery, co-led by a Johns Hopkins University geochemist and published today in Scientists progressoffers rare optimism about the fate of one of Earth’s most critical ecosystems as climate change alters the global pattern of intense storms.
“The good news is that in these types of environments, certain mechanisms can play an important role in stabilizing the ecosystem because they recover so quickly,” said Maya Gomes, Johns Hopkins assistant professor of life sciences. Earth and planets. “What we’ve seen is that they’ve started to grow again, which means that if we continue to have more hurricanes because of climate change, those ecosystems will be relatively resilient.”
The team, co-led by California Institute of Technology and University of Colorado, Boulder, researchers, had studied Little Ambergris Cay, an uninhabited island in the Turks and Caicos Islands, in particular the island’s microbial mats. Microbial mats are spongy, spongy ecosystems that for eons have supported a wide range of life, from microscopic organisms that settle in the oxygenated upper layers to mangroves that they help root and stabilize, which in turn turn provide habitats for even more species. . Carpets can be found all over the world in wildly different environments, but the variety studied by this team is typically found in saltwater-oriented tropical locations, exactly the coastal locations most vulnerable to severe storms.
In September 2017, the eyewall of Category 5 Hurricane Irma directly hit the island the team was working on.
“Once we learned that everyone was fine, we were uniquely positioned to investigate how mat communities responded to such a catastrophic disruption,” Gomes said.
The impact of the tropical cyclone was immediately devastating, smothering the mats with a blanket of sandy sediment that decimated new growth. However, as the team first checked the site in March 2018, and then again in July 2018 and June 2019, they were pleased to see the mats growing back, with new mats visibly springing up from the sand layer as well. less than 10 months.
The growth of new mats proceeded rapidly and suggested that storm disturbance could facilitate the adaptation of these ecosystems to changes in sea level.
“For tropical islands and locations with that type of geochemistry, Florida Keys would be one in the United States, that’s kind of good news in that we think the mangrove ecosystem as well as the maps are quite well stabilized and resilient,” said lead author Usha F. Lingappa, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley.
The team also included: Co-lead author Woodward W. Fischer., Nathaniel T. Stein, Kyle S. Metcalfe, Theodore M. Present, Victoria J. Orphan, and John P. Grotzinger, all of the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences at the California Institute of Technology; Andrew H. Knoll of Harvard University; and co-lead author Elizabeth J. Trower of the University of Colorado at Boulder.
The work was supported by: The Agouron Institute, NASA Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences Grant 80NSSC18K0278, and NSF GRFP.
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