The existence of a flourishing mangrove forest in the Yucatan Peninsula, about 200 kilometers (124 miles) from the closest ocean, is a phenomenon that has baffled many. After all, mangrove forests primarily exist and flourish in salty water. Also known as the “lost world”, the forest is located on the bank of San Pedro Martir River, which runs from Guatemala to Mexico. The waters of the river are fresh, making the location unideal for mangrove forests.
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America has found that the red mangrove forest is a relict from about 125,000 years ago. The researchers found that the forest was established during the interglacial period. This is a period when the earth became very warm, forcing polar ice caps to melt. As a result, sea levels rose much higher than today.
Public attention was first drawn to the San Pedro mangrove forests in 2016, thanks to Carlos Burelo. Burelo, a botanist at the Universidad Juárez Autónoma de Tabasco, first raised the idea of the forest being a relict during his work. His discovery of the ecosystem is documented in an award-winning film known as “Memories of the Future: the modern discovery of a relict ecosystem.”
“I used to fish here and play on these mangroves as a kid, but we never knew precisely how they got there,” said Burelo. “That was the driving question that brought the team together.”
The recent study was led by researchers from the University of California San Diego and their colleagues in Mexico. Their main aim was to determine the reasons for the red mangrove forest’s existence in the middle of dry land.
Octavio Aburto-Oropeza, a marine ecologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and a co-author of the study, says that the ecosystem has shown resilience to remain for over a hundred years.
“The most amazing part of this study is that we were able to examine a mangrove ecosystem that has been trapped in time for more than 100,000 years,” Aburto-Oropeza said “There is certainly more to discover about how the many species in this ecosystem adapted throughout different environmental conditions over the past 100,000 years. Studying these past adaptations will be very important for us to better understand future conditions in a changing climate.”
Lead image via Pixabay