1 In oligotrophic habitats, proliferation of roots in nutrient-rich microsi
tes may contribute to overall nutrient conservation by plants. Peat-based s
oils on mangrove islands in Belize are characterized by the presence of dec
aying roots and numerous old root channels (0.1-3.5 cm diameter) that becom
e filled with living and highly branched roots of Rhizophora mangle and Avi
cennia germinans. The objectives of this study were to quantify the prolife
ration of roots in these microsites and to determine what causes this respo
2 Channels formed by the refractory remains of mangrove roots accounted for
only 1-2% of total soil volume, but the proportion of roots found within c
hannels varied from 9 to 24% of total live mass. Successive generations of
roots growing inside increasingly smaller root channels were also found.
3 When artificial channels constructed of PVC pipe were buried in the peat
for 2 years, those filled with nutrient-rich organic matter had six times m
ore roots than empty or sand-filled channels, indicating a response to grea
ter nutrient availability rather than to greater space or less impedance to
4 Root proliferation inside decaying roots may improve recovery of nutrient
s released from decomposing tissues before they can be leached or immobiliz
ed in this intertidal environment. Greatest root proliferation in channels
occurred in interior forest zones characterized by greater soil waterloggin
g, which suggests that this may be a strategy for nutrient capture that min
imizes oxygen losses from the whole root system.
5 Improved efficiency of nutrient acquisition at the individual plant level
has implications for nutrient economy at the ecosystem level and may expla
in, in part, how mangroves persist and grow in nutrient-poor environments.