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Individual Highlight

Understanding Tropical Forest Abiotic Response to Hurricanes using Experimental Manipulations, Field Observations, and Satellite Data

Photo of The abiotic inputs of light (solar radiation) and throughfall for 17 years of measurement. The vertical orange bars represent the first canopy trimming experiment, the second trimming experiment, and hurricanes María and Irma (close enough in time to show as one bar). The red lines are the measurements under the canopy that was trimmed as part of the canopy trimming experiment. The black lines are from under the untrimmed canopy, at the control sites. The blue line in the solar radiation figure is from satellite measurements of vegetation that are used to estimate light under the canopy. Data is shown as smoothed lines summarizing seasonality, and also as straight dashed lines summarizing annual patterns.The abiotic inputs of light (solar radiation) and throughfall for 17 years of measurement. The vertical orange bars represent the first canopy trimming experiment, the second trimming experiment, and hurricanes María and Irma (close enough in time to show as one bar). The red lines are the measurements under the canopy that was trimmed as part of the canopy trimming experiment. The black lines are from under the untrimmed canopy, at the control sites. The blue line in the solar radiation figure is from satellite measurements of vegetation that are used to estimate light under the canopy. Data is shown as smoothed lines summarizing seasonality, and also as straight dashed lines summarizing annual patterns.Snapshot : The cycle of hurricane disturbance to forests was studied, from initial forest response to recovery. To better understand the driving forces of the ecosystem changes, abiotic inputs to the forest environment under the canopy such as light, moisture, and temperature were measured.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Gonzalez, Grizelle 
Research Location : U.S. Caribbean
Research Station : International Institute of Tropical Forestry (IITF)
Year : 2020
Highlight ID : 1641

Summary

With the projections for future increases in hurricane intensity, there is a need to understand the forest changes with time after a hurricane disturbance. In this study, researchers analyzed the abiotic response and recovery of the tropical forest after hurricanes (physical changes to the forest environment, not biological changes) using a range of measurements including a canopy trimming experiment, the hurricanes María and Irma, and satellite data over the area. The analysis showed the abiotic response and recovery was effectively simulated by the canopy trimming experiment. While satellite data measure the initial abiotic response to some extent, they were not as effective at measuring the length of the abiotic recovery. Abiotic inputs to the forest beneath the canopy (light and throughfall) were measured as higher than pre-disturbance levels for 4 to 9 years after the disturbance. This affects soil and leaf moisture and temperature to differing degrees throughout recovery. Soil remained wetter until recovery but leaves in the litter and canopy were wetter and drier, with evidence that leaves dry out faster in low rainfall and saturate faster in high rainfall after hurricane disturbance. Data records spanning the multiple manipulative experiments followed by hurricane María provide evidence that intermediate hurricane frequency has the most extreme abiotic response (with evidence on almost all abiotic factors tested) versus infrequent or frequent hurricanes.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

 
  • Alonso Ramírez
  • Ashley Van Beusekom
  • Jess K. Zimmerman
  • Sarah Stankavich