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Post-hurricane Canopy Openings Influence Ecosystem Processes in a Tropical Rainforest

Photo of A simulated forest canopy opening in the Luquillo Experimental Forest to mimic hurricane disturbance and investigate changes in microclimate, biota, and ecosystem processes. Aaron B. Shiels, National Wildlife Research Center; USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection ServiceA simulated forest canopy opening in the Luquillo Experimental Forest to mimic hurricane disturbance and investigate changes in microclimate, biota, and ecosystem processes. Aaron B. Shiels, National Wildlife Research Center; USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection ServiceSnapshot : Forest Service researchers collaborated with external scientists to examine the effects of hurricane disturbance on tropical forest ecosystems. They found that one of the most important drivers of forest change is the opening of canopies due to wind damage, with added debris playing a relatively smaller role through the supplement of carbon and nutrients.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Gonzalez, Grizelle 
Research Location : Luquillo Experimental Forest
Research Station : International Institute of Tropical Forestry (IITF)
Year : 2015
Highlight ID : 800

Summary

Intense hurricanes disturb many tropical forests, but the key processes driving post-hurricane forest changes are not fully understood. In Puerto Rico, Forest Service scientists collaborated with researchers from the Luquillo Long-Term Ecological Research Program to simulate hurricane effects in the Luquillo Experimental Forest and determine the mechanisms of forest change associated with canopy openness (via loss of branches) and organic matter (debris) addition. By studying in isolation the individual effects of storm damage, the scientists were able to observe how changes in microclimate cascaded down through the food web. They concluded that short-term responses of biota and ecosystem processes to cyclonic storms appear to be largely driven by canopy opening and the subsequent shifts in light and moisture, with added debris playing a relatively smaller role through the supplement of carbon and nutrients. This research highlights the dynamic nature of tropical forest ecosystems, and helps inform predictions of how plant, animal, and fungal species might respond to anticipated increases in the frequency of major hurricanes.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Lodge, D.J.
  • Aaron B. Shiels, Research Center, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service