Sea level rise and the associated inland shift of the marsh-mangrove ecotone in south Florida have raised many scientific and management concerns in recent years. Holocene paleoecological records can provide an important baseline to shed light on the long-term dynamics of vegetation changes across this ecotone in the past, which is needed to predict the future. In this study, we present palynological, X-ray fluorescence, and loss-on ignition data from four sedimentary cores recovered from a 20-km marine-to-freshwater transect along the Shark River Estuary, southwest Everglades, to document the patterns and processes of coastal vegetation changes in response to sea level rise since the mid-Holocene. Our record indicates that freshwater marsh progressively replaced marl prairies at the Shark River Estuary between 5700 and 4400 cal yr BP. As marine transgression continued, marine influence reached the threshold necessary for mangroves to establish at the current mouth of the Shark River Slough at 3800 cal yr BP. During the next 3000 years, although sea level rise in the Western North Atlantic slowed down to 0.4 mm/yr, a spatial and temporal gradient was evident as the marsh-mangrove ecotone shifted inland by 20 km from 3800 to 800 cal yr BP, accompanied by a gradual landward replacement of freshwater marsh by mangrove forest. If sea level continues to rise at 2.33 mm/yr in the 21st century in south Florida, it is possible that marine influence will reach the threshold for mangroves to establish in the central Everglades, and we could expect a much more aggressive mangrove encroachment toward the northern and interior parts of south Florida in the next few centuries.
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Yao Q, Liu K-b (2017) Dynamics of marsh-mangrove ecotone since the mid-Holocene: A palynological study of mangrove encroachment and sea level rise in the Shark River Estuary, Florida. PLoS ONE 12(3): e0173670. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0173670
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