Mangrove stand in Malaysia. ©FAO/Ahmad Mustapha Mohamad PaziMangrove forests are dominated by woody halophytes, which are able to survive under high salinity conditions. Located in the intertidal zones between the sea and the land in the tropics and subtropics, mangroves provide important habitats and feeding grounds for a variety of marine and terrestrial fauna. Several morphological and physiological adaptations allow mangrove trees to survive the harsh conditions of coastal and estuarine life. Their highly vascularized root systems exclude salt from the soil water they utilize and pump oxygen down into anoxic sediments. Pneumatophores and knee roots project upwards from the sediment, while prop roots and buttresses extend radially from trunks to provide stability in unconsolidated sediment and areas of high tidal action. Roots and leaves are also able to extrude salt to maintain balance of cellular fluids.
Mangroves provide habitats for a vast variety of species. One reason for this is the diversity of habitat structure provided by mangroves at the interface between land and sea. In addition to the usual canopy habitat and underground root structure of a forest ecosystem, the complex root structures (pneumatophores are lateral roots) aboveground which are inundated at high tides provide a habitat that many fish and other marine life depend on as habitat and nursery ground.
A variety of marine species, including threatened species, are attracted to mangrove forests for the high food availability, cooler water with higher oxygen content and the refuge they provide. In addition, a number of mammals and reptiles live, forage or hunt in mangrove ecosystems, including the endangered Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) which lives in the Sundarbans mangrove ecosystem in India and Bangladesh. As well, a number of migratory bird species also rely on mangroves as wintering and roosting sites along their migratory routes. Mangroves also provide a key habitat and support a number of endemic, restricted-range and migratory bird species.