Publication Date


Document Type


Publication Title

Journal of Ecology







First Page


Last Page



Latitudinal range limits for mangroves on high-energy, wave-dominated coasts are controlled by geomorphological features and estuarine dynamics. Mangroves reach a southern global range limit along the South African coastline, but the distribution is patchy, with stands occurring in only 16% of the estuaries in the region. Yet, the persistence of forests planted >50 years ago beyond the natural distribution limit suggests that additional estuaries could support mangroves. Understanding regional drivers is necessary to inform global-scale estimates for how this important ecosystem is predicted to respond to climate change. Here, we combine species distribution modelling (MaxEnt), Lagrangian particle tracking using an eddy- and tide-resolving numerical ocean model, and connectivity matrices, to identify suitable mangrove habitats along the South African coastline at present, as well as under the IPCC RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 climate scenarios. Within the current South African distribution range (±900 km), eight more estuaries were identified to be suitable under contemporary conditions. When considering potential range extension (±110 km), an additional 14 suitable estuaries were identified. Connectivity matrices suggest limited long-distance dispersal, stranding mostly at or near the release location, and a decreased probability of connectivity towards the range limit. Under both future climate scenarios, 30% of estuaries currently supporting mangroves are predicted to become unsuitable, while an additional six estuaries beyond the current distribution are predicted to become suitable. However, there is limited connectivity between these new sites and established forests. Synthesis. This study shows that dispersal substantially limits mangrove distribution at the southern African range limit and highlights the importance of including this process in species distribution models. Ultimately, our results provide new insight into mangrove conservation and management at range limits that are not controlled predominantly by temperature, as it has been assumed that mangroves will largely expand to higher latitudes under climate change.

Funding Number


Funding Sponsor

National Aeronautics and Space Administration


Avicennia marina, climate change, coastal wetland, dispersal limitation, Lagrangian particle tracking, range expansion, South Africa, species distribution modelling


This is the Version of Record and can also be read online here.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.


Moss Landing Marine Laboratories