Forest Floor Decomposition Following Hurricane Litter Inputs in Several Puerto Rican Forests

Rebecca Ostertag, Frederick N. Scatena, and Whendee L. Silver. 2003. Forest Floor Decomposition Following Hurricane Litter Inputs in Several Puerto Rican Forests. Ecosystems 6 :261-273.

Abstract: 
Hurricanes affect ecosystem processes by altering resource availability and heterogeneity, but the spatial and temporal signatures of these events on biomass and nutrient cycling processes are not well understood. We examined mass and nutrient inputs of hurricane-derived litter in six tropical forests spanning three life zones in northeastern Puerto Rico after the passage of Hurricane Georges. We then followed the decomposition of forest floor mass and nutrient dynamics over 1 year in the three forests that experienced the greatest litter inputs (moist, tabonuco, and palm forests) to assess the length of time for which litter inputs influence regeneration and nutrient cycling processes. The 36-h disturbance event had litterfall rates that ranged from 0.55 to 0.93 times annual rates among the six forests; forest floor ranged between 1.2 and 2.5 times prehurricane standing stocks. The upperelevation forest sites had the lowest nonhurricane litterfall rates and experienced the lowest hurricane litterfall and the smallest relative increase in forest floor standing stocks. In the three intensively studied forests, the forest floor returned to prehurricane values very quickly, within 2–10 months. The palm forest had the slowest rate of decay (k  0.74  0.16 y–1), whereas the tabonuco forest and the moist forest had similar decay rates (1.04  0.12 and 1.09  0.14, respectively). In the moist forest, there were short-term increases in the concentrations of nitrogen (N), hosphorus (P), calcium (Ca), and magnesium (Mg) in litter, but in the other two forests nutrient concentrations generally decreased. The rapid disappearance of the hurricane inputs suggests that such pulses are quickly incorporated into nutrient cycles and may be one reason for the extraordinary resilience of these forests to wind disturbances.