skip to main content


Title: Solar radiation and soil moisture drive tropical forest understory responses to experimental and natural hurricanes
Abstract

Tropical forest understory regeneration occurs rapidly after disturbance with compositional trajectories that depend on species availability and environmental conditions. To predict future tropical forest regeneration dynamics, we need a deeper understanding of how pulse disturbance events, like hurricanes, interact with environmental variability to affect understory demography and composition. We examined fern and sapling mortality, recruitment, and community composition in relation to solar radiation and soil moisture using 17 years of forest dynamics data (2003–2019) from the Canopy Trimming Experiment in the Luquillo Experimental Forest, Puerto Rico. Solar radiation increased 150% and soil moisture increased 40% following canopy trimming of experimental plots relative to control plots. All plots were disturbed in 2017 by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, so experimentally trimmed plots presented the opportunity to study the effects of multiple hurricanes, while control plots isolated the effects of a single natural hurricane. Recruitment rates maximized at 0.14 individuals/plot/month for ferns and 0.20 stems/plot/month for saplings. Recruitment and mortality were distributed more evenly over the 17 years of monitoring in experimentally trimmed plots than in control plots; however, following Hurricane Maria demographic rates substantially increased in control plots only. In experimentally trimmed plots, the largest community compositional shifts occurred as a result of the trimming events, and compositional changes were greatest for control plots after Hurricane Maria in 2017. Pioneer tree and fern species increased in abundance in response to both simulated and natural hurricanes. Following Hurricane Maria, two dominant pioneer species,Cyathea arboreaandCecropia schreberiana, recruited abundantly, but only in control plots. In trimmed plots, increased solar radiation and soil moisture shifted understory species composition steadily toward pioneer and secondary‐successional species, with soil moisture interacting strongly with canopy trimming. Thus, both solar radiation and soil moisture are environmental drivers affecting pioneer species recruitment following disturbance, which interact with canopy opening following hurricanes. Our results suggest that if hurricane disturbances increase in frequency and severity, as suggested by climate change predictions, the understory regeneration of late‐successional species, such asManilkara bidentataandSloanea berteroana, which prefer deeper shade and slightly drier soil microsites, may become imperiled.

 
more » « less
Award ID(s):
1831952
NSF-PAR ID:
10445014
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Ecosphere
Volume:
13
Issue:
7
ISSN:
2150-8925
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Hurricanes cause dramatic changes to forests by opening the canopy and depositing debris onto the forest floor. How invasive rodent populations respond to hurricanes is not well understood, but shifts in rodent abundance and foraging may result from scarce fruit and seed resources that follow hurricanes. We conducted studies in a wet tropical forest in Puerto Rico to better understand how experimental (canopy trimming experiment) and natural (Hurricane Maria) hurricane effects alter populations of invasive rodents (Rattus rattus[rats] andMus musculus[mice]) and their foraging behaviors. To monitor rodent populations, we used tracking tunnels (inked and baited cards inside tunnels enabling identification of animal visitors' footprints) within experimental hurricane plots (arborist trimmed in 2014) and reference plots (closed canopy forest). To assess shifts in rodent foraging, we compared seed removal of two tree species (Guarea guidoniaandPrestoea acuminata) between vertebrate‐excluded and free‐access treatments in the same experimental and reference plots, and did so 3 months before and 9 months after Hurricane Maria (2017). Trail cameras were used to identify animals responsible for seed removal. Rat incidences generated from tracking tunnel surveys indicated that rat populations were not significantly affected by experimental or natural hurricanes. Before Hurricane Maria there were no mice in the forest interior, yet mice were present in forest plots closest to the road after the hurricane, and their forest invasion coincided with increased grass cover resulting from open forest canopy. Seed removal ofGuareaandPrestoeaacross all plots was rat dominated (75%–100% rat‐removed) and was significantly less after than before Hurricane Maria. However, following Hurricane Maria, the experimental hurricane treatment plots of 2014 had 3.6 times greater seed removal by invasive rats than did the reference plots, which may have resulted from rats selecting post‐hurricane forest patches with greater understory cover for foraging. Invasive rodents are resistant to hurricane disturbance in this forest. Predictions of increased hurricane frequency from expected climate change should result in forest with more frequent periods of grassy understories and mouse presence, as well as with heightened rat foraging for fruit and seed in preexisting areas of disturbance.

     
    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    With predictions of increased frequency of intense hurricanes, it is increasingly crucial to understand how biotic and abiotic components of forests will be affected. This study describes canopy arthropod responses to repeated experimental and natural canopy opening at the Luquillo Experimental Forest Long‐term Ecological Research Site (LTER) in Puerto Rico. The canopy trimming experiment (CTE1) treatments were started in 2004, and a second trimming (CTE2) was conducted in 2014, to study effects of increased hurricane frequency at the site. Paired disturbed plots with canopy trimmed (trim) and undisturbed plots with no trimming (no trim) were replicated in three experimental blocks. Arthropods were sampled by bagging branches on seven representative early and late successional overstory and understory tree species annually from 2004 to 2009 for CTE1 and 2015 to 2019 for CTE2. In addition to the experimental manipulation, the CTE site was disturbed by Hurricane Maria (Category 4) in September 2017, providing an additional natural canopy opening to the experiment. We evaluated the effect of the second experimental trimming, compared canopy arthropod responses to the three canopy‐opening events, and compared the effects of experimental trimming and natural canopy opening by Hurricane Maria. The second experimental canopy trimming produced canopy arthropod responses consistent with hurricane disturbances, with sap‐sucking herbivores increasing in abundance on the trimmed plots, whereas other functional groups generally declined in abundance in disturbed plots. Responses to the first and second trimmings were generally similar. However, Hurricane Maria exacerbated the responses, indicating the likely effect of increased hurricane frequency and intensity.

     
    more » « less
  3. A number of recent studies have documented long-term declines in abundances of important arthropod groups, primarily in Europe and North America. These declines are generally attributed to habitat loss, but a recent study [B.C. Lister, A. Garcia,Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA115, E10397–E10406 (2018)] from the Luquillo Experimental Forest (LEF) in Puerto Rico attributed declines to global warming. We analyze arthropod data from the LEF to evaluate long-term trends within the context of hurricane-induced disturbance, secondary succession, and temporal variation in temperature. Our analyses demonstrate that responses to hurricane-induced disturbance and ensuing succession were the primary factors that affected total canopy arthropod abundances on host trees, as well as walkingstick abundance on understory shrubs. Ambient and understory temperatures played secondary roles for particular arthropod species, but populations were just as likely to increase as they were to decrease in abundance with increasing temperature. The LEF is a hurricane-mediated system, with major hurricanes effecting changes in temperature that are larger than those induced thus far by global climate change. To persist, arthropods in the LEF must contend with the considerable variation in abiotic conditions associated with repeated, large-scale, and increasingly frequent pulse disturbances. Consequently, they are likely to be well-adapted to the effects of climate change, at least over the short term. Total abundance of canopy arthropods after Hurricane Maria has risen to levels comparable to the peak after Hurricane Hugo. Although the abundances of some taxa have declined over the 29-y period, others have increased, reflecting species turnover in response to disturbance and secondary succession.

     
    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Tropical forests are expected to experience unprecedented warming and increases in hurricane disturbances in the coming decades; yet, our understanding of how these productive systems, especially their belowground component, will respond to the combined effects of varied environmental changes remains empirically limited. Here we evaluated the responses of root dynamics (production, mortality, and biomass) to soil and understory warming (+4°C) and after two consecutive tropical hurricanes in our in situ warming experiment in a tropical forest of Puerto Rico: Tropical Responses to Altered Climate Experiment (TRACE). We collected minirhizotron images from three warmed plots and three control plots of 12 m2. Following Hurricanes Irma and María in September 2017, the infrared heater warming treatment was suspended for repairs, which allowed us to explore potential legacy effects of prior warming on forest recovery. We found that warming significantly reduced root production and root biomass over time. Following hurricane disturbance, both root biomass and production increased substantially across all plots; the root biomass increased 2.8‐fold in controls but only 1.6‐fold in previously warmed plots. This pattern held true for both herbaceous and woody roots, suggesting that the consistent antecedent warming conditions reduced root capacity to recover following hurricane disturbance. Root production and mortality were both related to soil ammonium nitrogen and microbial biomass nitrogen before and after the hurricanes. This experiment has provided an unprecedented look at the complex interactive effects of disturbance and climate change on the root component of a tropical forested ecosystem. A decrease in root production in a warmer world and slower root recovery after a major hurricane disturbance, as observed here, are likely to have longer‐term consequences for tropical forest responses to future global change.

     
    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    The effects of climate change on tropical forests may have global consequences due to the forests’ high biodiversity and major role in the global carbon cycle. In this study, we document the effects of experimental warming on the abundance and composition of a tropical forest floor herbaceous plant community in the Luquillo Experimental Forest, Puerto Rico. This study was conducted within Tropical Responses to Altered Climate Experiment (TRACE) plots, which use infrared heaters under free‐air, open‐field conditions, to warm understory vegetation and soils + 4°C above nearby control plots. Hurricanes Irma and María damaged the heating infrastructure in the second year of warming, therefore, the study included one pretreatment year, one year of warming, and one year of hurricane response with no warming. We measured percent leaf cover of individual herbaceous species, fern population dynamics, and species richness and diversity within three warmed and three control plots. Results showed that one year of experimental warming did not significantly affect the cover of individual herbaceous species, fern population dynamics, species richness, or species diversity. In contrast, herbaceous cover increased from 20% to 70%, bare ground decreased from 70% to 6%, and species composition shifted pre to posthurricane. The negligible effects of warming may have been due to the short duration of the warming treatment or an understory that is somewhat resistant to higher temperatures. Our results suggest that climate extremes that are predicted to increase with climate change, such as hurricanes and droughts, may cause more abrupt changes in tropical forest understories than longer‐term sustained warming.

     
    more » « less