New genetics tool improves our ability to inform mangrove conservation and management

Red mangrove in southwest Florida, USA. © J P Kennedy

Mangrove forests have long been thought of as foul-smelling, mosquito-ridden, and menacing swamps that would better serve as aquaculture farms or coastal developments – or, at least this has been the opinion of those who did not depend on these coastal ecosystems for their livelihoods. At present, however, the importance of mangroves finally seems to be coming to light, with many high-profile advocates for mangrove protection and conservation, including Greta Thunberg, Leonardo DiCaprio, and (most notably) Dr Jennifer Rowntree and Prof Richard Preziosi. In the Neotropics, red mangroves (Rhizophora mangle) are arguably the most charismatic and well-recognised mangrove species – with their endless supply of prop roots that somehow defy gravity and maintain these uniquely-shaped trees standing as the tides continuously modify the surrounding environment. Even our lab group could not resist the allure of this species as we proudly incorporated this mangrove into our lab logo. Multiple layers of knowledge are needed to inform mangrove conservation and management efforts, including insights into population genetics. As such, a team of mangrove enthusiasts from our lab group recently published a new genetics tool that greatly improves our ability to understand red mangrove genetic patterns while saving researchers considerable time and resources. This tool should facilitate future studies to answer multiple pressing conservation and management questions. Notable members of this team include lab alumni Dr Hayley Craig who developed new genetic markers for this species, Masters student Agnessa Lundy who incorporated samples from across the distribution of red mangroves in The Bahamas, visiting scientist Antonella Jara-Cavieres who put all the pieces together in the lab to make this project possible, and PhD student John Paul Kennedy who dedicates his time to looking after two small children and being fascinated by mangrove systems (in that order). You can find this open-access publication in Conservation Genetics Resources here or download it directly here.

New genetics tool with 14 polymorphic loci (panel A) better delineated three red mangrove populations compared to data subsets with

numbers of loci comparable to previous research (6 and 8 loci; panels B, C, respectively). Red mangroves from Jupiter, Florida are shown with

blue squares, from New Providence, The Bahamas are shown with red circles, and from Inagua, The Bahamas are shown with green triangles

© Ecological Genetics & Conservation, 2019