Hurricane Disturbance Alters Secondary Forest Recovery in Puerto Rico

Flynn DFB, Uriarte M, Crk T et al (2009) Hurricane disturbance
alters secondary forest recovery in Puerto Rico.
Biotropica 42:149–157

Land-use history and large-scale disturbances interact to shape secondary forest structure and composition. How introduced species respond to disturbances such as hurricanes in post-agriculture forest recovery is of particular interest. To examine the effects of hurricane disturbance and previous land use on forest dynamics and composition, we revisited 37 secondary forest stands in former cattle pastures across Puerto Rico representing a range of exposure to the winds of Hurricane Georges in 1998. Stands ranged from 21 to480 yr since agricultural abandonment and were measured 9 yr posthurricane. Stem density decreased as stands aged, while basal area and species richness tended to increase. Hurricane disturbance exerted contrasting effects on stand structure, contingent on stand age. In older stands, the basal area of large trees fell, shifting to a stand structure characteristic of younger stands, while the basal area of large trees tended to rise in younger stands with increasing hurricane disturbance. These results demonstrate that large-scale natural disturbances can alter the successional trajectory of secondary forest stands recovering from human land use, but stand age, precipitation and soil series were better predictors of changes in stand structure across all study sites. Species composition changed substantially between census intervals, but neither age nor hurricane disturbance consistently predicted species composition change. However, exposure to hurricane winds tended to decrease the abundance of the introduced tree Spathodea campanulata, particularly in smaller size classes. In all sites the abundance of the introduced tree Syzygium jambos showed a declining trend, again most strongly in smaller size classes, suggesting natural thinning through succession.