Interactive effects of drought and hurricanes on long-term forest dynamics

Collaborators: Jess K. Zimmerman (University of Puerto Rico) and Jill Thompson (CEH, Edinburgh).

Funding: National Science Foundation LTER Program.

Tropical forests play a critical role in carbon and water cycles at a global scale. Rapid climate change is anticipated in tropical regions over the coming decades. For the Caribbean, models predicts more frequent droughts and severe hurricanes. The inherent complexity of post-disturbance successional processes challenges our ability to provide clear predictions of the future status of tropical forests and their global role in sustaining biodiversity and ecosystem services. Both stochastic and deterministic processes drive forest succession and local (stand-level) patterns are highly dependent on physical and biotic features of the disturbed site and of the surrounding landscape and region.

 Our research is conducted in the Luquillo Forest Dynamics Plot (LFDP), a 16-ha plot of subtropical wet forest in the Luquillo Experimental Forest in Puerto Rico, part of a Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) site and the Smithsonian network of large plots (CTFS). The LFDP has been subject to dramatic natural disturbance. We rely on spatially-explicit, stand-level, mechanistic models of forest dynamics that explore how variation in life history traits (e.g., response to wind damage and drought) among tree species determines forest resilience to hurricane disturbance and regional drought.

Figure 1. Drought in Puerto Rico in 2015.

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Figure 2. Precipitation in Puerto Rico for the years  in 1994, 2010 and 2015.

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