Tropical land-sea couplings: Role of watershed deforestation, mangrove estuary processing, and marine inputs on N fluxes in coastal Pacific Panama. Academic Article uri icon


  • We review data from coastal Pacific Panama and other tropical coasts with two aims. First, we defined inputs and losses of nitrogen (N) mediating connectivity of watersheds, mangrove estuaries, and coastal sea. N entering watersheds-mainly via N fixation (79-86%)-was largely intercepted; N discharges to mangrove estuaries (3-6%), small compared to N inputs to watersheds, nonetheless significantly supplied N to mangrove estuaries. Inputs to mangrove estuaries (including watershed discharges, and marine inputs during flood tides) were matched by losses (mainly denitrification and export during ebb tides). Mangrove estuary subsidies of coastal marine food webs take place by export of forms of N [DON (62.5%), PN (9.1%), and litter N (12.9%)] that provide dissimilative and assimilative subsidies. N fixation, denitrification, and tidal exchanges were major processes, and DON was major form of N involved in connecting fluxes in and out of mangrove estuaries. Second, we assessed effects of watershed forest cover on connectivity. Decreased watershed forest cover lowered N inputs, interception, and discharge into receiving mangrove estuaries. These imprints of forest cover were erased during transit of N through estuaries, owing to internal N cycle transformations, and differences in relative area of watersheds and estuaries. Largest losses of N consisted of water transport of energy-rich compounds, particularly DON. N losses were similar in magnitude to N inputs from sea, calculated without considering contribution by intermittent coastal upwelling, and hence likely under-estimated. Pacific Panama mangrove estuaries are exposed to major inputs of N from land and sea, which emphasizes the high degree of bi-directional connectivity in these coupled ecosystems. Pacific Panama is still lightly affected by human or global changes. Increased deforestation can be expected, as well as changes in ENSO, which will surely raise watershed-derived loads of N, as well as significantly change marine N inputs affecting coastal coupled ecosystems.

publication date

  • July 15, 2018