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Environmental Research Letters


IOP Publishing


Caribbean tropical forests are subject to hurricane disturbances of great variability. In addition to natural storm incongruity, climate change can alter storm formation, duration, frequency, and intensity. This model-based investigation assessed the impacts of multiple storms of different intensities and occurrence frequencies on the long-term dynamics of subtropical dry forests in Puerto Rico. Using the previously validated individual-based gap model ZELIG-TROP, we developed a new hurricane damage routine and parameterized it with site- and species-specific hurricane effects. A baseline case with the reconstructed historical hurricane regime represented the control condition. Ten treatment cases, reflecting plausible shifts in hurricane regimes, manipulated both hurricane return time (i.e. frequency) and hurricane intensity. The treatment-related change in carbon storage and fluxes were reported as changes in aboveground forest biomass (AGB), net primary productivity (NPP), and in the aboveground carbon partitioning components, or annual carbon accumulation (ACA). Increasing the frequency of hurricanes decreased aboveground biomass by between 5% and 39%, and increased NPP between 32% and 50%. Decadal-scale biomass fluctuations were damped relative to the control. In contrast, increasing hurricane intensity did not create a large shift in the long-term average forest structure, NPP, or ACA from that of historical hurricane regimes, but produced large fluctuations in biomass. Decreasing both the hurricane intensity and frequency by 50% produced the highest values of biomass and NPP. For the control scenario and with increased hurricane intensity, ACA was negative, which indicated that the aboveground forest components acted as a carbon source. However, with an increase in the frequency of storms or decreased storms, the total ACA was positive due to shifts in leaf production, annual litterfall, and coarse woody debris inputs, indicating a carbon sink into the forest over the long-term. The carbon loss from each hurricane event, in all scenarios, always recovered over sufficient time. Our results suggest that subtropical dry forests will remain resilient to hurricane disturbance. However carbon stocks will decrease if future climates increase hurricane frequency by 50% or more.


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