1 Novel coexisting mangrove-coral habitats: Extensive coral communities located deep within mangrove canopies of Panama, a global classification system and predicted distributions

Heather A. Stewart, David I. Kline, Rafael J. Arujo, Jennifer L. Wright, Matthew Carrigan, Andrew H. Altieri

Marine ecosystems are structured by coexisting species occurring in adjacent or nested assemblages. Mangroves and corals are typically observed in adjacent assemblages (i.e., mangrove forests and coral reefs) but are increasingly reported in nested mangrove-coral assemblages with corals living within mangrove habitats. Here we define these nested assemblages as “coexisting mangrove-coral” (CMC) habitats and review the scientific litera- ture to date to formalize a baseline understanding of these ecosystems and create a founda- tion for future studies. We identify 130 species of corals living within mangrove habitats across 12 locations spanning the Caribbean Sea, Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and South Pacific. We then provide the first description, to our knowledge, of a canopy CMC habitat type located in Bocas del Toro, Panama. This canopy CMC habitat is one of the most coral rich CMC habitats reported in the world, with 34 species of corals growing on and/or among submerged red mangrove aerial roots. Based on our literature review and field data, we identify biotic and abiotic characteristics common to CMC systems to create a classification framework of CMC habitat categories: (1) Lagoon, (2) Inlet, (3) Edge, and (4) Canopy. We then use the compiled data to create a GIS model to suggest where additional CMC habitats may occur globally. In a time where many ecosystems are at risk of disappearing, discovery and description of alternative habitats for species of critical concern are of utmost impor- tance for their conservation and management.

PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0269181 June 15, 2022

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