Have you ever wondered about the damage done to an ecosystem like tropical forests, after a hurricane? What kind of damage do hurricanes cause to tropical forests? You might be surprised at the findings from the following report on the damage done to Mexico’s tropical forest following Hurricane Wilma.
Allen, M. et al. describes how mature ecosystems have declined over the last century and hurricanes have the most negative impact on these systems. These researchers studied the disturbance dynamics of Hurricane Wilma on the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico’s tropical forest (Allen, M., et al., n.d.).
Some of their findings in this tropical forest showed that the high winds from this hurricane stripped most leaves and branches and left stripped poles standing. The report also showed that seral stands of trees survived while mature forest trees did not.
Researchers also explained that the density and diversity of insects in mature forests were affected more so by hurricanes than in other areas of the tropical forest. Several of these insects are important food sources for birds and are pollinators. Canopy birds also declined.
Researchers concluded that damage from hurricanes is not uniform throughout tropical forests. Although wildlife, biomass, and plants recovered fairly quickly, mature forests are impacted the most by hurricanes. Downed trees add fuel for future fires and the gaps that are produced from these downed trees add opportunity for invading plants.
According to Allen et al., some species are only supported by mature forests and the diversity of many plants and insects is at risk from hurricanes. In addition, in order to maintain global biodiversity, restoring mature forests may become an important aspect of a manager’s job.
If climate change continues to create more intense and more frequent hurricanes, complex mature ecosystems such as tropical forests will be in great danger. As mature forests become smaller due to human interference, it will become more difficult for organisms such as certain insects to re-populate following the destruction from hurricanes.
From personal experience, I have noticed that the trees that were uprooted and toppled from hurricane force winds were usually the largest in the area. However, as I hiked through an area that I frequented a lot, I noticed that the visual effects from hurricanes appeared more like the hurricane had cleaned house.
The following fall the oak trees that were left bare from the hurricane only months earlier produced the most acorns I had ever seen on those trees. I am clearly not a fan of hurricanes but I can see that they are a part of the natural global ecosystem and its weather patterns. However, global warming due to human causes clearly has affected the number and intensity of storms such as hurricanes and has caused disturbance dynamics that may be irreversible in some areas like tropical forests.
For further information on disturbance dynamics, hurricanes, and tropical forests please visit hurricanes and forests.
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Authors’ Disclaimer: While every caution has been taken to provide my readers with the most accurate information, please use your discretion before making any decisions based on the information in this article.
Allen, M., Vargas, R., Allen, E., Murillo, A., Deppe, J., Bisaccio, D., et al. (n.d.). Vulnerability of a tropical ecosystem to hurricane disturbance: simultaneous responses of complex biostructure. Center for Conservation Biology, University of California, Riverside, CA. Retrieved from http://www.brown.edu/Departments/Education/news/news/files/Vulnerability_of_Tropical_Forest_