Effects of land use history on hurricane damage and recovery in a neotropical forest

TitleEffects of land use history on hurricane damage and recovery in a neotropical forest
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2004
AuthorsUriarte, M, Rivera, HD, Zimmerman, JK, Aide, TM, Power, AG, Flecker, AS
JournalPlant Ecology
Accession NumberLUQ.664
KeywordsLos Haitises

Prior land-use history might influence damage and recovery of plant communities from natural disturbance. We examined effects of previous agricultural land use on damage and recovery of plant communities affected by Hurricane Georges. The study was conducted in the karst region of Los Haitises National Park, Dominican Republic. We compared pre- and post-hurricane stem density, basal area and diversity of woody vegetation in sites within the park that had been subject to different land use histories. The type of land uses included a wide range of histories, ranging from abandoned pastures and conucos mixed plantings to cacao plantations, intact forests and mogotes hilltop communities with no recent history of land use. Previous land use and the amount of basal area present prior to the hurricane determined effects of, and recovery from hurricane disturbance. Systems with high pre-hurricane basal area lost many large trees, whereas the basal area hardly changed in systems without large trees. Thus, basal area decreased at forested sites, mogotes, and cacao plantations and remained comparable to pre-hurricane figures in all other land uses. Shifts in species diversity paralleled to some degree reductions in basal area. Species diversity increased in mogotes and cacao plantations, perhaps as a result of hurricane damage to the forest canopy, which facilitated regeneration of heliophilic species. Finally, regeneration of cacao seedlings in former cacao plantations, and growth of pioneer species in young conucos mixed plantings more than doubled post-hurricane stem densities for these two types of land use. Previous agricultural land use left a lasting impression on the structure and composition on plant communities, which persisted even after hurricane damage.