Mangroves are survivors. With their roots submerged in water, mangrove trees thrive in hot, muddy, salty conditions that would quickly kill most plants. How do they do it? Through a series of impressive adaptations—including a filtration system that keeps out much of the salt and a complex root system that holds the mangrove upright in the shifting sediments where land and water meet. Not only do mangroves manage to survive in challenging conditions, the mangrove ecosystem also supports an incredible diversity of creatures—including some species unique to mangrove forests. And, as scientists are discovering, mangrove swamps are extremely important to our own well-being and to the health of the planet. The question is: Will mangroves be able to survive the impact of human activities?
A thick stand of mangroves with tangled roots lines an island creek in Panama.
Ilka C. Feller/Smithsonian Institution