The Mangrove Biocomplexity project is a multidisciplinary effort, funded under the National Science Foundation's Biocomplexity initiative to examine microbial and nutrient controls in mangrove ecosystems. This project is part of the Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems Program (CCRE), which is based at the Smithsonian Marine Field Station on Carrie Bow Cay, Belize. Fieldwork is primarily focused on the nearby mangrove system at Twin Cays.

Mangroves dominate the world's tropical and subtropical coasts, paralleling the geographical distribution of coral reefs. Ecological processes here are influenced by inputs from the land, sea, and sky, which result in extreme fluctuations of flooding, salinity, temperature, light, and nutrient availability.

Mangrove-associated organisms have specialized physiological and structural adaptations that enable them to thrive in this variable environment. Human-caused enrichment is one of the major global threats to these coastal ecosystems. Long-term experiments at the research facilities of the Smithsonian's Marine Research Network in Belize, Florida, and Panama have shown that nutrients are not uniformly distributed among or even within mangrove forests. Soil fertility can switch from nitrogen to phosphorus limitation across narrow spatial gradients.

The Mangrove Biocomplexity study is exploring the relationships among physical and chemical factors, nutrients, microbes, trees, and elemental cycling in clear-water mangrove on offshore islands in Belize.
Dr. Candy Feller, Project Director, with a team of nine collaborating scientists from institutions across the US, began fieldwork at the SI lab on Carrie Bow in July 2000. We are examining the interactions between the environment and organisms to determine how changes in nutrient inputs from natural, agricultural, aquaculture, or urban sources might alter the delicate balance among these ecosystem components.

Network analysis will help us integrate the findings from each of the disciplines and model the contribution complexity makes to the ability of mangrove ecosystems to survive both natural and anthropogenic disturbances.

The results of the study will help scientists understand how to manage and conserve mangrove ecosystems and will contribute to our understanding of biocomplexity in other ecosystems.