A correlation between petroleum hydrocarbon concentrations in sediments and chlorophyll-deficient mutations in mangroves may occur also in Australian mangroves. Earlier reports of such mutations in the Caribbean area were evident in viviparous propagules of the common mangrove genera, Rhizophora, borne on otherwise normal trees. These mutant propagules were termed ‘albinos’ since they lacked chlorophyll and normal green coloration, leaving them white, yellow or red. The mutation was considered lethal since newly established albino seedlings appeared unable to survive more than a few months. Our preliminary investigation of mangroves in SE Queensland found a similar mutation in another common mangrove genus, Avicennia, and this was apparently also correlated with oil concentrations in sediments. Although, more evidence is required, an apparently similar relationship shows that whatever caused the mutations may act commonly across a diverse range of plant types in quite separate locations. How widespread might this mutation be in mangroves? How many genera and species are affected? Are all occurrences correlated with oil in sediments? Does oil cause the mutation? We discuss these important questions and the potentially serious implications to coastal management where high mutant densities may be indicative of longer term genetic deterioration of mangrove habitat in oil-polluted wetland environments.
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