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Title: 20th‐Century hurricanes leave long‐lasting legacies on tropical forest height and the abundance of a dominant wind‐resistant palm

Projected increases in hurricane intensity under a warming climate will have profound effects on many forest ecosystems. One key challenge is to disentangle the effects of wind damage from the myriad factors that influence forest structure and species distributions over large spatial scales. Here, we employ a novel machine learning framework with high‐resolution aerial photos, and LiDAR collected over 115 km2of El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico to examine the effects of topographic exposure to two hurricanes, Hugo (1989) and Georges (1998), and several landscape‐scale environmental factors on the current forest height and abundance of a dominant, wind‐resistant species, the palmPrestoea acuminata var. montana. Model predictions show that the average density of the palm was 32% greater while the canopy height was 20% shorter in forests exposed to the two storms relative to unexposed areas. Our results demonstrate that hurricanes have lasting effects on forest canopy height and composition, suggesting the expected increase in hurricane severity with a warming climate will alter coastal forests in the North Atlantic.

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Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Ecology and Evolution
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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