Changes in Structure, Composition, and Nutrients During 15 years of Hurricane-Induced Succession in a Subtropical Wet Forest in Puerto Rico
Quantifying the impacts and recovery of forest resources to hurricanes and multiple disturbances is essential to managing forests in hurricane-prone areas and in understanding the potential impacts of climate change. Research in the Luquillo Experimental Forest in Puerto Rico has documented the changes in structure, composition, and nutrients in forests that have been subjected to both hurricanes and droughts. Aboveground biomass was reduced by 50% after Hurricane Hugo in 1989 but had recovered within 15 years. However, there were still fewer trees and tree species in the forest after 15 years than before the hurricane. Fast growing pioneer species were mainly responsible for the quick regeneration of biomass in the forest. These species have different leaf chemistry which changes patterns of nutrient cycling after a hurricane. Forest Service scientists also studied the effects of soil or substrate type on post-hurricane regeneration. Among soil types, they found that there were very few differences in forest structure and composition 15 years after a hurricane. Differences that are regularly noted in vegetation between sites with different soils were not seen in the study, suggesting that the influence of soil type occurs at a time span much longer than the average return time of hurricanes. Thus, hurricanes tend to homogenize forest structure and composition in the short term and increasing frequency of hurricanes would maintain that effect.