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Insights on Forest Structure and Composition

The science of ecology fundamentally aims to understand species and their relation to the environment.

At sites where hurricane disturbance is part of the environmental context, permanent forest plots are critical to understand ecological vegetation dynamics through time.

An overview of forest structure and species composition from two of the longest continuously measured tropical forest plots is presented.

Long-term measurements, 72 years at the leeward site, and 25 years at windward site, of stem density are similar to initial and pre-hurricane values at both sites.

For 10 years post-hurricane Hugo (1989), stem density increased at both sites.

Following that increase period, stem density has remained at 1400 to 1600 stems/ha in the leeward site, and at 1200 stems/ha in the windward site.

The forests had similar basal area values before hurricane Hugo in 1989, but these sites are following different patterns of basal area accumulation.

The leeward forest site continues to accumulate and increase basal area with each successive measurement, currently above 50 m2/ha.

The windward forest site maintains its basal area values close to an asymptote of 35 m2/ha.

Currently, the most abundant species at both sites is the sierra palm.

Ordinations to explore variation in tree species composition through time present the leeward site with a trajectory of directional change, while at the windward site, the composition of species seems to be converging to pre-hurricane conditions.

The observed differences in forest structure and composition from sites differently affected by hurricane disturbance provide insight into how particular forest characteristics respond at shorter or longer time scales in relation to previous site conditions and intensity of disturbance effects.

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AUTHORS

Tamara Heartsill Scalley (USDA Forest Service, International Institute of Tropical Forestry, Jardín Botánico Sur, 1201 Calle Ceiba, Río Piedras, PR 00926, USA)