Dynamics of a fringe mangrove forest detected by Landsat images in the Mekong River Delta, Vietnam
Mangrove forests dominate many tropical coastlines and are one of the most bio-diverse and productive environments on Earth. However, little is known of the large-scale dynamics of mangrove canopies and how they colonize intertidal areas. Here we focus on a fringe mangrove forest located in the Mekong River Delta, Vietnam; a fast prograding shoreline where mangroves are encroaching tidal flats. The spatial and temporal evolution of the mangrove canopy is studied using a time series of Landsat images spanning two decades as well as Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) elevation data. Our results show that fast mangrove expansion is followed by an increase in Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) in the newly established canopy. We observe three different dynamics of the mangrove fringe: in the southwest part of the fringe, near a deltaic distributary where the fringe boundary is linear, the canopy expands uniformly on the tidal flats with a high colonization rate and high NDVI values. In the northeast part of the fringe, near another distributary, the canopy expands at a much lower rate with low NDVI values. In the fringe center, far from the river mouths, the fringe boundary is highly irregular and mangroves expansion in characterized by sparse vegetated patches displaying low NDVI values. We ascribe these different dynamics to wave action and southwest longshore transport triggered by energetic northeasterly monsoons during winter. We further link the large-scale dynamics of the fringe to small-scale physical disturbances (waves, erosion and deposition) that might prevent the establishment of mangrove seedlings. Based on these results, we include mangrove encroachment in an already published conceptual model of progradation of the Mekong River Delta. We conclude that high NDVI values and a constantly linear vegetation–water interface are indicative of stable mangrove canopies undergoing fast expansion, probably triggered by sediment availability at the shore. Our results can be applied more generally to mangrove forests growing in minerogenic and high tidal range environments with high sediment inputs.