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Journal of Tropical Ecology


Cambridge University Press


Trees’ resistance to fire-induced mortality increases with bark thickness, which varies widely among species and generally increases with stem diameter. Because dry forests are more fire-prone than wetter forests, bark may be thicker in these forests. However, where disturbances such as hurricanes suppress stem diameter, trees may not obtain fire-resistant bark thickness. In two hurricane-prone Caribbean dry-forest types in Puerto Rico—deciduous forest and scrub forest—we measured bark thickness on 472 stems of 25 species to test whether tree species obtain bark thicknesses that confer fire resistance, whether bark is thicker in the fire-prone scrub forest than in the deciduous forest, and how bark thickness in Caribbean dry forest compares with other tropical ecosystems. Only 5% of stems within a deciduous-forest stand had bark thickness that would provide < 50% probability of top-kill during low-intensity fire. In contrast, thicker-barked trees dominated the scrub forest, suggesting that fires influenced it. Compared with trees of similar diameter in other regions of the tropics, bark in Caribbean dry forest was thinner than in savanna, similar to other seasonally dry forests, and thicker than moist-to-wet forests. Dry-forest species appear to invest more in fire-resistance than species from wetter forests. However, Caribbean dry forests remain highly vulnerable to fire because the trees rarely reach large enough diameters to be fire resistant.


DOI: COPYRIGHT: © Cambridge University Press 2014