Mangroves in La Paz, Mexico  | Photo: Martin Zimmer


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About the work group Mangrove Ecology

Mangroves are forests that dwell along tropical and subtropical coasts and provide a link between the sea and land. Both locally and globally, they provide a basis for the production of food, and local communities use them as a source for wood extraction. From an ecological perspective, they support a detritus-based food web through exporting their leaf litter into estuarine and coastal waters, where it supports a plethora of marine life that uses mangroves as shelter, migration site or nursery. The accretion and stabilization of sediments contribute to protecting teh coasts from erosion and storm surges. Being popular touristic sites, they offer aditional income for local people.

Mangroves are among the most efficient CO2-sinks: because of their high productivity, they store more carbon and nitrogen in their biomass and the sediments than many other ecosystems. Hence, they potentially contribute to mitigating climate gas-driven climate change.

Almost worldwide, mangroves are threatened by human use and exploitation
- e.g., wood extraction and clear-cutting, pollution and eutrophication of rivers and coastal waters, dredging and diking for land-claiming- as well as by the ongoing (relative) sea level rise. With an annual rate of almost 1%, we loose mangroves worldwide even more rapidly than tropical rain forests, and within the next 100 years, mangrove might be entirely lost.

Besides the direkt loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, the ongoing loss of mangroves exhibits indirect effects on adjacent ecosystems, such as seagrass meadows or coral reefs, that suffer from increased sedimentation upon removing mangroves. Further, the destruction of mangroves eradicates breeding- and nursery areas of numerous marine species.

Through observational, experimental and modelling approaches, the Mangrove Ecology Group aims at providing a scientifically sound basis for the sustainable use, management and conservation of mangroves worldwide.


Research Approaches and Methods

A quick overview......

Lab for extracting envDNA (contact: V. Helfer; S. Peters)

Our aim is to provide a reliable scientific fundament for the protection and the sustainable use of mangroves that can serve as guideline for stakeholders and decision-makers for the planning and management of protected areas: For this, knowledge and in-depth understanding of the ecosystem is required - Which organisms occur under which environmental conditions (biodiversity)? How do organisms interact (biotic interactions), and how to they respond to environmental change? How will the ecological community change, when the environment and resource-use by humans will change (model-based projections)? Which processes are currently driven by the community, and how will this change in the future (ecosystem processes)? Which ecosystem services result from these processes, how are they utilized by whom (social-ecological systems analysis), and how can their use be rendered sustainable (conservation-prioritization, -planning and -management)?

(pyrolysis-)gas chromatography/mass spectrometry for analyzing organic matter in plants and sediments (contact: M. Zimmer; R. Himmelsbach)

We describe mangrove communities with the aid of classical faunistics and floristics but also through metabarcoding (and metagenomics) of environmental (and microbial) DNA. Correlations between community composition and environmental conditions are translated into models that project future future mangrove communities in space and time. With a focus on sediment processes and dynamics, we analyze the chemical structure (metabolomics: (py-)GC/MS; NIRS) and the dynamics (transcriptomics) of organic matter and quantify fluxes (export/import) of elements and nutrients (micro-sensors). Further, we study the accretion and erosion of sediments as they depend on mangrove community composition.

Micro-sensors for small-scale analysis of environmental parameters in sediments (contact: M. Zimmer; L. Gillis)

Greenhouses for raising mangrove treelings (contact: M. Zimmer; A. Meyer)

Field study-sites of the Mangrove Ecology Group

map 2018 copy

Red colors indicate coastal areas with mangrove vegetation.

Map adapted from:
Giri. C, Ochieng E, Tieszen LL, Zhu Z, Singh A, Loveland T, Masek J, Duke N (2011). Status and distribution of mangrove forests of the world using earth observation satellite data (version 1.3, updated by UNEP-WCMC). Global Ecology and Biogeography 20: 154-159. 8238.2010.00584.x/abstract


Recent Publications related to mangroves (last three years)

Curnick DJ, Pettorelli N, Amir AA, Balke T, Barbier EB, Crooks S, Dahdouh-Guebas F, Duncan C, Endsor C, Friess DA, Quarto A, Zimmer M, Lee SY. 2019. The value of small mangrove patches. Science 363 (6424): 239.

Gillis LG, Snavely E, Lovelock C, Zimmer M. 2019. Effects of crab burrows on sediment characteristics in a Ceriops australis-dominated mangrove forest. Estuarine Coastal & Shelf Science 218: 334-339.

Quadros AF, Nordhaus I, Reuter H, Zimmer M. 2019. Modelling of mangrove annual leaf litterfall with emphasis on the role of vegetation structure. Estuarine Coastal & Shelf Science 218: 292-299.

Le Minor M, Bartzke G, Zimmer M, Gillis LG, Helfer V, Huhn K. 2019. Numerical modelling of hydraulics and sediment dynamics around mangrove seedlings: Implications for mangrove establishment and reforestation. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 217: 81-95.


Dsikowitzky L, Damar A, Ferse SCA, Irianto HE, Jennerjahn TC, Lukas MC, Nordhaus I, Pohlmann T, Schwarzbauer J, Sugama K, Sumiono B. 2018. Java Island. In: C Sheppard (Eds.) World Seas – An Environmental Evaluation. Volume II: The Indian Ocean to the Pacific. Academic Press: 459-490.

Faber J, Quadros AF, Zimmer M. 2018. A space-for-time approach to study the effects of increasing temperature on leaf litter decomposition under natual conditions. Soil Biology & Biochemistry 123: 250-256.

Helfer V, Zimmer M. 2018. High-throughput techniques as support for knowledge-based spatial conservation prioritization in mangrove ecosystems. In: Makowski C, Finkl CW (eds). Threats to Mangrove Forests: Hazards, Vulnerability and Management. Springer: 539-554.

Khan WR, Nazre M, Zulkifli SZ, Kudus KA, Zimmer M,  Roslan MK, Mukhtar A, Mostapa R, Gandaseca S. 2018. Reflection of stable isotopes and selected elements with the inundation gradient at the Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve (MMFR), Malaysia. International Forestry Review: in press.

Nordhaus I. 2018. Macrobenthos: Ecological Functions of Benthic Animals. In: Hempel G, Hempel I, Hornige A (Eds.) Scientific Partnership for a Better Future. Bremen´s Research along Tropical Coasts. Edition Falkenberg, pp. 41-43.

Nordhaus, I., Roelke, D., Vaquer-Sunyer, R., Winter, C. (2018): Coastal systems in transition: From a 'natural' to an 'anthropogenically-modified' state. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 211: 1-5.

Quadros AF, Zimmer M. 2018. Dataset of “true mangroves” plant species traits. Biodiversity Data Journal 5: e22089.

Saeedi H, Kamrani E, Nordhaus I, Diele K. 2018. Sediment temperature impact on population structure and dynamics of the crab Austruca iranica Pretzmann, 1971 (Crustacea: Ocypodidae) in subtropical mangroves of the Persian Gulf. Wetlands.

Zimmer M. 2018. Alike but distinct: mangrove forests worldwide. In: Hempel G, Hempel I, Hornidge A.K (eds). Scientific partnersip for a better future: Bremen’s research along tropical coasts. Edition Falkenberg. 76-79.

Zimmer M. 2018. Detritus. In: Jorgensen SE, Fath BD (ed). Encyclopedia of Ecology 2nd edition. Elsevier (in press).

Zimmer M. 2018. Ecosystem Design: when mangrove ecology meets human needs. In: Makowski C, Finkl CW (eds). Threats to Mangrove Forests: Hazards, Vulnerability and Management. Springer: 367-376.


Belshe EF, Matteo MA, Gillis LG, Zimmer M, Teichberg M. 2017. Muddy waters: Unintentional consequences of blue carbon research obscure our understanding of organic carbon dynamics in seagrass ecosystems. Frontiers in Marine Sciences 4: 125.

Gillis LG, Belshe FE, Narayan GR. 2017. Deforested mangroves affect the potential for carbon linkages between connected ecosystems. Estuaries and Coasts.

Gillis LG, Belshe, FE, Ziegler AD, Bouma TJ. 2017. Driving forces of organic carbon spatial distribution in the tropical seascape. Journal of Sea Research.

Gillis LG, Jones CJ, Ziegler AD, van der Wal D, Breckbwoldt A, Bouma TB. 2017. Opportunities for Protecting and Restoring Tropical Coastal Ecosystems by Utilizing a Physical Connectivity Approach. Frontiers in Marine Science 4 (374).

Gillis LG, Paul M, Bouma TB. 2017. No waves, no nutrients: How waves affect nutrient uptake in seagrass beds. Frontiers in Marine Science 4 (207).

Jennerjahn TC, Gilman E, Krauss KW, Lacerda LD, Nordhaus I, Wolanski E. in press. Chapter 7: Climate Change. In: Rivera-Monroy V, Lee SY, Kristensen E, Twilley RR (Eds). Mangrove Ecosystems: A Global Biogeographic Perspective; Structure, Function and Services. Springer.

Lee SY, Jones EBG, Diele K, Castellanos-Galindo GA, Nordhaus I. in press. Chapter 3: Biodiversity. In: Rivera-Monroy V, Lee SY, Kristensen E, Twilley RR (Eds). Mangrove Ecosystems: A Global Biogeographic Perspective; Structure, Function and Services. Springer.

Nordhaus I. 2017. Makrobenthos: Ökologische Funktionen von Bodentieren. In: Hempel G, Hempel I, Hornige AK (Eds.): Klüger nutzen – besser schützen. Bremer Forschung an tropischen Küsten. Edition Falkenberg, pp. 59-61.

Nordhaus I, Salewski T, Jennerjahn TC. 2017. Interspecific variations in mangrove leaf litter decomposition are related to labile nitrogenous compounds. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 192: 137-148.

Saint-Paul U, Zimmer M. 2017. Mangroven - Wälder zwischen Land und Meer. - In: Hempel G, Bischof K, Hagen W (Eds). Faszination Meeresforschung. Springer. 291-302.

Zimmer M. 2017. Mangrovenwälder weltweit. In: Hempel G, Hempel I, Hornidge A-K (eds). Klüger nutzen – besser schützen: Bremer Forschung an tropischen Küsten. Edition Falkenberg. 130-133.


Alberts-Hubatsch H, Lee SY, Meynecke JO, Diele K, Nordhaus I, Wolff M. 2016. Life-history, movement and habitat use of Scylla serrata - current knowledge and future challenges. Hydrobiologia 763: 5-21.

Dwiyitno, Dsikowitzky L, Nordhaus I, Nuri Andarwulan, Hari Eko Irianto, Hanifah Nuryani Lioe, Farida Ariyani, Kleinertz S, Schwarzbauer J. 2016. Accumulation patterns of lipophilic organic contaminants in surface sediments and in economic important mussel and fish species from Jakarta Bay, Indonesia. Marine Pollution Bulletin 110(2): 767-777.

Gillis LG, Zimmer M, Bouma TB. 2016. Mangrove leaf transportation: Do mimic Avicennia and Rhizophora roots retain or donate leaves? Marine Ecology Progress Series 551: 107-115.

Pülmanns N, Mehlig U, Nordhaus I, Saint-Paul U, Diele K. 2016. Mangrove crab Ucides cordatus removal does not affect sediment parameters and stipule production in a one year experiment in Northern Brazil. PLoS ONE 11(12): 1-19.

Quak MSY, Ziegler AD, Benner SG, Evans S, Todd PA, Gillis LG, Vongtanaboon S, Jachowski N, Bouma TJ. 2016. Processes affecting the spatial distribution of seagrass meadow sedimentary material on Yao Yai Island, Thailand. Estuarine Coastal and Shelf Sciences 182: 136-145.

Ray R, Shahraki M. 2016. Multiple sources driving the organic matter dynamics in two contrasting tropical mangroves. Science of the Total Environment 571: 218-227.

Shahraki M, Saint- Paul U, Krumme U, Fry B. 2016. Fish use of intertidal mangrove creeks at Qeshm Island. Marine Ecology Progress Series 542:153-166.

Shahraki M. 2016. In a Harsh Desert, a Watery Forest Survives. National Geographic News (interview article)

Shahraki M. Fry B. 2016. Seasonal fisheries changes in low-rainfall mangrove ecosystems of Iran. Estuaries and Coasts 39: 529-541.

Vermeiren P, Munoz C, Zimmer M, Sheaves M. 2016. Hierarchical toolbox: Ensuring scientific accuracy of citizen science for tropical coastal ecosystems. Ecological Indicators 66: 242-250.

Wolter JW, Gillis LG, Bouma TJ, van Katwijk MM, Ziegler AD. 2016. Land use effects on mangrove nutrient status in Phang Nga bay, Thailand. Land Degradation and Development 27, 68-76.

Zimmer M, Helfer V. 2016. Biodiversität, Ökosystemprozesse und Ökosystemleistungen. In: Lozán JL, Breckle S-W, Müller R, Rachor E (Eds). Warnsignal Klima: Die Biodiversität. Verlag Wissenschaftliche Auswertungen. 297-302.

Further research projects

Microbial communities I: Temporal dynamics of active microbial communities in mangrove sediments (San Andrés Island, Colombia) (Hassenrück & Helfer) (ZMT)

Microbial communities II: Spatial distribution of microbial communities and its drivers in mangrove ecosystems: a multi-strata approach combining remote-sensing, chemical and molecular ecology (Pichavaram, India) (Helfer & Hassenrück) (ZMT)

Exploring carbon dynamics in connected mangrove forests and seagrass beds: how important is it? (Gillis) (DFG) [D.A. Saavedra Hortua]

ExManCoast - Exchange of organic matter between mangroves and coastal waters (Zimmer, Jennerjahn & Helfer) (ZMT) [M. Wölfelschneider]

Mangrove connectivity with the hinterland: element fluxes and animal migration (Zimmer; within PADDLE) [G. Abuchahla]

ReMainMan - organic matter sediment dynamics in mangrove forest gaps (Zimmer, Helfer, Reuter, Rovere & Casella) [M.K. Agyekum]

Crab-microbe interactions in feeding and digestion of different detrital food sources (Zimmer & Helfer) (DAAD/HEC) [A. Haroon]

Population genetics and local adaptations of isolated mangroves (Helfer & Zimmer) [C. Tegge]

Microbial decay of mangrove litter in reforested mangrove patches (Zimmer & Amir) [N. Pradisty]

Effects of crabs and snails on organic matter-fluxes in porewater (Zimmer & Wölfelschneider) [S. Nasrin]

Herbivory on mangroves in a reforested area (Zimmer & Amir) [Z. Bagotai]

Effects of mangrove trees growing on a back reef on sediment dynamics (Helfer) [T. Fett]

Determining microbial enzyme activities in stored samples (Zimmer, Helfer & Hassenrück) [E. Trautner & J. Kalaitzakis]

Determining sources of organic matter in coastal sediments through metabarcoding of environmental DNA (Helfer & Zimmer) [T. Poprick]

Sediment characteristics and mangrove communities: a global comparative approach (Zimmer & Helfer) [J. Schuster; J. Dohr; S. Kraus]

Effects of mangrove snails on sediment characteristics (Helfer, Zimmer, Mackay & Weerts) [N. Reinhardt]

Stress responses of mangrove crabs to organic pollutants (Zimmer & Helfer) [C. Alvarez Covelli]

Mangroves, seagrass beds and sea turtles (Helfer, Zimmer & Piovano) [M.A. Camargo Vargas]

Microplastics, microbes and mangrove sediments (Helfer, Zimmer & Ferreira) [NN]

Local use of faunal resources from mangroves in Fiji (Helfer, Zimmer & Titoko) [K. Schrader]