UNF biologist discovers mangrove trees in Georgia, farthest north they’ve ever been recorded

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Dr. Scott F. Jones, an assistant professor of biology at the University of North Florida, has played a crucial role in discovering mangrove trees in southern Georgia, marking the northernmost occurrence of these tropical plants ever recorded.


The discovery was made in January when a journalist from Scientific American contacted William ‘Ches’ Vervaeke, a coastal ecologist with the National Park Service’s Southeast Coast Inventory and Monitoring Network, for a story on the northernmost mangroves and the scientists studying them. Vervaeke, who had been studying mangroves along with Ilka ‘Candy’ Feller from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, reached out to Jones due to his prior research on mangroves.

Jones, Vervaeke, and the journalist embarked on a boat trip near the south side of Amelia Island, where they initially believed the northernmost mangroves to be located. They found the area abundant with mangroves and continued their exploration further north.

Eventually, they identified a new northernmost point for mangroves, discovering a small group of both red and black mangroves in the marsh near Cumberland Island, just north of the Florida border.

This discovery is significant as it places black mangroves 20 kilometers farther north and red mangroves more than 80 kilometers farther north than previously documented.

Mangroves, which are tropical plants that typically do not survive below-freezing temperatures, have generally been confined to coastal wetlands south of Daytona Beach. However, their range has been extending northward in recent years due to a lack of lethal freeze events.

“Climate change is a big driver of the expansion, but there are a lot of other factors involved, including the timing of storm events that bring mangroves up the coast,” Jones explained. “In the long term, mangroves are going to keep moving up. With a warmer planet, and provided the plants can get to an area, that will happen.”

Jones is now focused on studying the mangroves in both Georgia and Florida, aiming to understand how these tropical plants will affect the resilience of the region’s coastal wetlands.

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William Clayton

William Clayton, Action News Jax

Digital reporter and content creator for Action News Jax

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