Hurricane Disturbances & Tree Diversity

Hurricane disturbances, tree diversity, and succession in North Carolina Piedmont forests, USAWeimin Xi

Windthrow plays a critical role in maintaining species diversity in temperate forests. Do large scale strong wind events (i.e., tropical cyclones, including hurricanes, typhoons and severe cyclonic storms) increase tree diversity in severely damaged forest areas? Do hurricanes (tropical cyclones that occurs in the Atlantic Ocean and northeastern Pacific Ocean) lead to altered relative abundance of shade-tolerant and shade-intolerant species? Did historic hurricanes alter the succession trajectory of thedamaged forests? We used nearly 70-year tree demographic data to assess the effects of two major hurricanes on woody species diversity in Piedmont forests, North Carolina, USA. Species richness (S) and Shannon–Wien-er’s diversity index (H') were used to evaluate the changes in tree diversity. The changes in composition were assessed with Nonmetric Multidimensional Scaling. The pre-hurricane successional phase can strongly influence both the damage severity and subsequent responses. Although thereis often an immediate drop in diversity following a hurricane, understory tree diversity quickly increases to levels that exceed those prior to the disturbance. This leads to an increase in diversity in stands that were substantially damaged. Hurricanes significantly decrease the dominance of shade-intolerant canopy species while increasing pre-established, more shade-tolerant species. We conclude that large, and infrequent hurricanes help to maintain local tree diversity, but also accelerate the increase in dominance of understory species such as red maple and beech.

NatureServe Author(s)

Citation

  • Weimin Xi, Robert K. Peet, Michael T. Lee, Dean L. Urban