The many species of trees and shrubs adapted to saline conditions are not all closely related, and the term "mangrove" may be used for all of them, or more narrowly only for the mangrove family of plants, the Rhizophoraceae, or even more specifically just for mangrove trees of the genus Rhizophora.
Mangroves form a characteristic saline woodland or shrubland habitat, called mangrove swamp, mangrove forest, mangrove or mangal. Mangals are found in depositional coastal environments where fine sediments (often with high organic content) collect in areas protected from high energy wave action. They occur both in estuaries and along open coastlines. Mangroves dominate three quarters of tropical coastlines.
Mangals are found in tropical and sub-tropical tidal areas, and as such have a high degree of salinity. Areas where mangals occur include estuaries and marine shorelines.
Plants in mangals are diverse but all are able to exploit their habitat (the intertidal zone) by developing physiological adaptations to overcome the problems of anoxia, high salinity and frequent tidal inundation. About 110 species belong to the mangal. Each species has its own solutions to these problems; this may be the primary reason why, on some shorelines, mangrove tree species show distinct zonation. Small environmental variations within a mangal may lead to greatly differing methods for coping with the environment. Therefore, the mix of species is partly determined by the tolerances of individual species to physical conditions, like tidal inundation and salinity, but may also be influenced by other factors such as predation of plant seedlings by crabs. A cluster of mangroves on the banks of the Vellikeel River in Kannur District of Kerala, India
Once established, mangrove roots provide an oyster habitat and slow water flow, thereby enhancing sediment deposition in areas where it is already occurring. The fine, anoxic sediments under mangroves act as sinks for a variety of heavy (trace) metals which colloidal particles in the sediments scavenged from the water. Mangrove removal disturbs these underlying sediments, often creating problems of trace metal contamination of seawater and biota. Mangroves in Mangalavanam Bird Sanctuary of Kerala, India
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Mangroves protect coastal areas from erosion, storm surge (especially during hurricanes), and tsunamis. The mangrove's massive root system is efficient at dissipating wave energy. Likewise, they slow down tidal water enough that its sediment is deposited as the tide comes in, leaving all except fine particles when the tide ebbs. In this way, mangroves build their own environment. Because of the uniqueness of mangrove ecosystems and the protection against erosion that they provide, they are often the object of conservation programs including national Biodiversity Action Plans.
However, mangroves' protective value is sometimes overstated. Wave energy is typically low in areas where mangroves grow, so their effect on erosion can only be measured over long periods. Their capacity to limit high-energy wave erosion is limited to events like storm surges and tsunamis. Erosion often occurs on the outer sides of bends in river channels that wind through mangroves, while new stands of mangroves are appearing on the inner sides where sediment is accreting.
The unique ecosystem found in the...