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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Belowground nitrogen dynamics in relation to hurricane damage along a tropical dry forest chronosequence

  • Author(s): Hasselquist, Niles J.
  • Santiago, Louis S.
  • Allen, Michael F.
  • et al.

Understanding and predicting the responses of plant communities to multiple overlapping disturbances remains a challenging task. Hurricane Wilma represents a large, yet infrequent type of disturbance that was superimposed on an existing disturbance gradient of time since fire. We examined disturbance and recovery patterns in response to these overlapping disturbances by measuring how canopy structure, fine roots, mycorrhizae, and soil nitrogen dynamics, varied along a fire chronosequence in the 2 years after Hurricane Wilma. Hurricane damage increased canopy openness in all seral stages. In the early-seral stage, canopy openness returned to pre-hurricane conditions within 2 years, whereas canopy openness in the late-seral stage remained significantly higher throughout the study. We observed no significant change in root length density in the early- and mid-seral stages. However, in the late-seral stage, root length density was significantly reduced immediately after the hurricane and remained so 2 years after the hurricane. In the late-seral stage, we also observed a significant reduction in percent soil nitrogen and a significant increase in soil nitrogen isotopic composition (δ15N) values, indicating a loss of soil nitrogen. In contrast, in the early- and mid-seral stages, there were no significant changes in percent nitrogen or soil δ15N values. Results from this study suggest that forest fire disturbance history influences responses to hurricane damage. Moreover, feedbacks between aboveground and belowground processes have the potential to influence forest recovery.

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