skip to main content

Title: A Research Framework to Integrate Cross-Ecosystem Responses to Tropical Cyclones
Abstract Tropical cyclones play an increasingly important role in shaping ecosystems. Understanding and generalizing their responses is challenging because of meteorological variability among storms and its interaction with ecosystems. We present a research framework designed to compare tropical cyclone effects within and across ecosystems that: a) uses a disaggregating approach that measures the responses of individual ecosystem components, b) links the response of ecosystem components at fine temporal scales to meteorology and antecedent conditions, and c) examines responses of ecosystem using a resistance–resilience perspective by quantifying the magnitude of change and recovery time. We demonstrate the utility of the framework using three examples of ecosystem response: gross primary productivity, stream biogeochemical export, and organismal abundances. Finally, we present the case for a network of sentinel sites with consistent monitoring to measure and compare ecosystem responses to cyclones across the United States, which could help improve coastal ecosystem resilience.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1760674 1832229 1761677 1831952 2037696 1903760 1807533 1756477
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; more » ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; « less
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Bugnot, Ana Barbara (Ed.)

    Major storms can alter coastal ecosystems in several direct and indirect ways including habitat destruction, stormwater-related water quality degradation, and organism mortality. From 2010–2020, ten tropical cyclones impacted coastal North Carolina, providing an opportunity to explore ecosystem responses across multiple storms. Using monthly trawl and contemporaneous seagrass surveys conducted in Back Sound, NC, we evaluated how cyclones may affect the nursery role of shallow-water biogenic habitats by examining seagrass-associated fish responses within a temperate-subtropical estuary. We employed a general before-after-control-impact approach using trawls conducted prior (before) and subsequent (after) to storm arrival and years either without (control) or with (impact) storms. We examined whether effects were apparent over short (within ~three weeks of impact) and seasonal (May-October) timescales, as well as if the magnitude of storm-related shifts varied as a function of storm intensity. Our findings suggest that the ability of these shallow-water habitats to support juvenile fishes was not dramatically altered by hurricanes. The resilience exhibited by fishes was likely underpinned by the relative persistence of the seagrass habitat, which appeared principally undamaged by storms based upon review of available–albeit limited seagrass surveys. Increasing cyclone intensity, however, was correlated with greater declines in catch and may potentially underlie the emigration and return rate of fish after cyclones. Whether estuarine fishes will continue to be resilient to acute storm impacts despite chronic environmental degradation and predicted increases major tropical cyclone frequency and intensity remains a pressing question.

    more » « less
  2. Tropical cyclones impact estuaries via a variety of mechanisms including storm surge, flooding from precipitation, high winds, and strong wave action. Prior studies have documented disturbances caused by tropical cyclones, including prolonged periods of depressed salinity from high freshwater discharge and increased or decreased dissolved oxygen concentrations from increased loading of organic matter and/or nutrients. However, most studies of disturbance and recovery in estuaries have been limited to one or a few locations or storm events, limiting generalizations about tropical cyclone impacts and characteristic patterns of ecosystem response and recovery. We analyzed responses to 59 tropical cyclones across 19 estuaries in the eastern United States by applying a new method for detecting disturbance and recovery to long-term and high-frequency measurements of salinity and dissolved oxygen from NOAA’s National Estuarine Research Reserve System. We quantified disturbance occurrence, timing, recovery time, and severity. Salinity disturbances generally started earlier and lasted longer than dissolved oxygen disturbances. Estuaries usually recovered within days, but some disturbances lasted weeks or months. Recovery time was positively correlated with disturbance severity for both variables. Tropical cyclone properties (especially precipitation) and location characteristics were both related to disturbance characteristics. Our findings demonstrate the power of high-frequency, long-term, and cross-system data, when combined with appropriate statistical methods, for analyzing hurricanes across many estuaries to quantify disturbances. Estuaries are resilient to hurricanes for the variables and time periods considered. However, persistent impacts can potentially damage resources provided by estuaries, eroding future resilience if hurricanes become more frequent and severe. 
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Extreme climatic events (ECEs) and predator removal represent some of the most widespread stressors to ecosystems. Though species interactions can alter ecological effects of climate change (and vice versa), it is less understood whether, when and how predator removal can interact with ECEs to exacerbate their effects. Understanding the circumstances under which such interactions might occur is critical because predator loss is widespread and ECEs can generate rapid phase shifts in ecosystems which can ultimately lead to tropicalization.

    Our goal was to determine whether loss of predation risk may be an important mechanism governing ecosystem responses to extreme events, and whether the effects of such events, such as tropicalization, can occur even when species range shifts do not. Specifically, our goal was to experimentally simulate the loss of an apex predator, the tiger sharkGaleocerdo cuviereffects on a recently damaged seagrass ecosystem of Shark Bay, Australia by applying documented changes to risk‐sensitive grazing of dugongDugong dugonherbivores.

    Using a 16‐month‐field experiment established in recently disturbed seagrass meadows, we used previous estimates of risk‐sensitive dugong foraging behaviour to simulate altered risk‐sensitive foraging densities and strategies of dugongs consistent with apex predator loss, and tracked seagrass responses to the simulated grazing.

    Grazing treatments targeted and removed tropical seagrasses, which declined. However, like in other mixed‐bed habitats where dugongs forage, treatments also incidentally accelerated temperate seagrass losses, revealing that herbivore behavioural changes in response to predator loss can exacerbate ECE and promote tropicalization, even without range expansions or introductions of novel species.

    Our results suggest that changes to herbivore behaviours triggered by loss of predation risk can undermine ecological resilience to ECEs, particularly where long‐lived herbivores are abundant. By implication, ongoing losses of apex predators may combine with increasingly frequent ECEs to amplify climate change impacts across diverse ecosystems and large spatial scales.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Understanding the complex and unpredictable ways ecosystems are changing and predicting the state of ecosystems and the services they will provide in the future requires coordinated, long‐term research. This paper is a product of a U.S. National Science Foundation funded Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) network synthesis effort that addressed anticipated changes in future populations and communities. Each LTER site described what their site would look like in 50 or 100 yr based on long‐term patterns and responses to global change drivers in each ecosystem. Common themes emerged and predictions were grouped into state change, connectivity, resilience, time lags, and cascading effects. Here, we report on the “state change” theme, which includes examples from the Georgia Coastal (coastal marsh), Konza Prairie (mesic grassland), Luquillo (tropical forest), Sevilleta (arid grassland), and Virginia Coastal (coastal grassland) sites. Ecological thresholds (the point at which small changes in an environmental driver can produce an abrupt and persistent state change in an ecosystem quality, property, or phenomenon) were most commonly predicted. For example, in coastal ecosystems, sea‐level rise and climate change could convert salt marsh to mangroves and coastal barrier dunes to shrub thicket. Reduced fire frequency has converted grassland to shrubland in mesic prairie, whereas overgrazing combined with drought drive shrub encroachment in arid grasslands. Lastly, tropical cloud forests are susceptible to climate‐induced changes in cloud base altitude leading to shifts in species distributions. Overall, these examples reveal that state change is a likely outcome of global environmental change across a diverse range of ecosystems and highlight the need for long‐term studies to sort out the causes and consequences of state change. The diversity of sites within the LTER network facilitates the emergence of overarching concepts about state changes as an important driver of ecosystem structure, function, services, and futures.

    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    Tropical ecosystems are undergoing unprecedented rates of degradation from deforestation, fire, and drought disturbances. The collective effects of these disturbances threaten to shift large portions of tropical ecosystems such as Amazon forests into savanna‐like structure via tree loss, functional changes, and the emergence of fire (savannization). Changes from forest states to a more open savanna‐like structure can affect local microclimates, surface energy fluxes, and biosphere–atmosphere interactions. A predominant type of ecosystem state change is the loss of tree cover and structural complexity in disturbed forest. Although important advances have been made contrasting energy fluxes between historically distinct old‐growth forest and savanna systems, the emergence of secondary forests and savanna‐like ecosystems necessitates a reframing to consider gradients of tree structure that span forest to savanna‐like states at multiple scales. In this Innovative Viewpoint, we draw from the literature on forest–grassland continua to develop a framework to assess the consequences of tropical forest degradation on surface energy fluxes and canopy structure. We illustrate this framework for forest sites with contrasting canopy structure that ranges from simple, open, and savanna‐like to complex and closed, representative of tropical wet forest, within two climatically distinct regions in the Amazon. Using a recently developed rapid field assessment approach, we quantify differences in cover, leaf area vertical profiles, surface roughness, albedo, and energy balance partitioning between adjacent sites and compare canopy structure with adjacent old‐growth forest; more structurally simple forests displayed lower net radiation. To address forest–atmosphere feedback, we also consider the effects of canopy structure change on susceptibility to additional future disturbance. We illustrate a converse transition—recovery in structure following disturbance—measuring forest canopy structure 10 yr after the imposition of a 5‐yr drought in the ground‐breaking Seca Floresta experiment. Our approach strategically enables rapid characterization of surface properties relevant to vegetation models following degradation, and advances links between surface properties and canopy structure variables, increasingly available from remote sensing. Concluding, we hypothesize that understanding surface energy balance and microclimate change across degraded tropical forest states not only reveals critical atmospheric forcing, but also critical local‐scale feedbacks from forest sensitivity to additional climate‐linked disturbance.

    more » « less