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Changes in the Structure, Composition and Nutrients during Hurricane-Induced Succession in a Subtropical Wet Forest

Scalley, T.H., Scatena , F.N., Lugo, A.E., Moya, S., Estrada, C.
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The trajectory of hurricane-induced succession was evaluated in a network of forest plots measured immediately before and 3 mo, 5, 10, and 15 yr after the direct impact of a Category 4 hurricane. Comparisons of forest structure, composition, and aboveground nutrients pools were made through time, and between species, life-history groups and geomorphic settings. The hurricane reduced aboveground biomass by 50 percent, causing an immediate decrease in stem density and diversity indices among all geomorphic settings. After 15 yr, basal area and aboveground biomass returned to pre-hurricane levels, while species richness, diversity indices, and stem densities exceeded pre-hurricane levels. Differences in species composition among geomorphic settings had not returned after 15 yr but differences in stem densities and structure were beginning to emerge. Significant differences were observed in the nutrient concentration of the three species that comprised the most aboveground biomass, and between species categorized as secondary high-light species and primary, low-light species. Species whose abundance was negatively correlated with the mature forest dominant also had distinct nutrient concentrations. When total aboveground nutrient pools were compared over time, differences in leaf nutrients among species were hidden by similarities in wood nutrient concentrations and the biomass dominance of a few species. The observed successional trajectory indicates that changes in species composition contributed to fast recovery of aboveground biomass and nutrient pools, while the influence of geomorphic setting on species composition occurs at time scales >15 yr of succession.

Department of Earth and Environmental Science / University of Pennsylvania, 251 Hayden Hall, 240 South 33rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6316