Abstract The upper and lower limits of the distribution of mature Avicennia marina lie between mean high water and mean sea level in open estuaries in southeastern Australia. Newly established seedlings are highly variable in abundance, but are rarely found in the saltmarsh or on mudflats. Their distribution is unlikely to be limited by dispersal because propagules disperse into the saltmarsh and to intertidal mudflats, but their establishment may be limited by physicochemical conditions, interspecific competition and predation.
The model that physicochemical conditions control the intertidal limits of establishment of seedlings was accepted for propagules stranding in the saltmarsh but rejected for those stranding on mudflats. No seedlings established on saltmarsh sediments but similar numbers of seedlings established within light gaps in adult mangrove stands and on intertidal mudflats. The model that interspecific interaction with freeliving macroalgae (Hormosira banksii) reduces the establishment of seedlings on mudflats covered with macroalgae or in stands with a ground cover of macroalgae was accepted. Under controlled conditions five times as many propagules established on cleared ground compared with ground covered with macroalgae. Predators also reduce seedling establishment, but the model that they preferentially act on propagules stranding on the mudflat was rejected. The low number of seedlings found on mudflats without macroalgae appears to relate to wave and current effects on establishment and the effects of waterlogging or fouling on survival.