Ecosystem resilience and threshold response in the Galápagos coastal zone.
Seddon AW., Froyd CA., Leng MJ., Milne GA., Willis KJ.
BACKGROUND: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provides a conservative estimate on rates of sea-level rise of 3.8 mm yr(-1) at the end of the 21(st) century, which may have a detrimental effect on ecologically important mangrove ecosystems. Understanding factors influencing the long-term resilience of these communities is critical but poorly understood. We investigate ecological resilience in a coastal mangrove community from the Galápagos Islands over the last 2700 years using three research questions: What are the 'fast and slow' processes operating in the coastal zone? Is there evidence for a threshold response? How can the past inform us about the resilience of the modern system? METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Palaeoecological methods (AMS radiocarbon dating, stable carbon isotopes (δ(13)C)) were used to reconstruct sedimentation rates and ecological change over the past 2,700 years at Diablas lagoon, Isabela, Galápagos. Bulk geochemical analysis was also used to determine local environmental changes, and salinity was reconstructed using a diatom transfer function. Changes in relative sea level (RSL) were estimated using a glacio-isostatic adjustment model. Non-linear behaviour was observed in the Diablas mangrove ecosystem as it responded to increased salinities following exposure to tidal inundations. A negative feedback was observed which enabled the mangrove canopy to accrete vertically, but disturbances may have opened up the canopy and contributed to an erosion of resilience over time. A combination of drier climatic conditions and a slight fall in RSL then resulted in a threshold response, from a mangrove community to a microbial mat. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: Palaeoecological records can provide important information on the nature of non-linear behaviour by identifying thresholds within ecological systems, and in outlining responses to 'fast' and 'slow' environmental change between alternative stable states. This study highlights the need to incorporate a long-term ecological perspective when designing strategies for maximizing coastal resilience.