Chilling damage in a changing climate in coastal landscapes of the subtropical zone: a case study from south Florida
Freeze events significantly influence landscape structure and community composition along subtropical coastlines. This is particularly true in south Florida, where such disturbances have historically contributed to patch diversity within the mangrove forest, and have played a part in limiting its inland transgression. With projected increases in mean global temperatures, such instances are likely to become much less frequent in the region, contributing to a reduction in heterogeneity within the mangrove forest itself. To understand the process more clearly, we explored the dynamics of a Dwarf mangrove forest following two chilling events that produced freeze-like symptoms, i.e., leaf browning, desiccation, and mortality, and interpreted the resulting changes within the context of current winter temperatures and projected future scenarios. Structural effects from a 1996 chilling event were dramatic, with mortality and tissue damage concentrated among individuals comprising the Dwarf forest's low canopy. This disturbance promoted understory plant development and provided an opportunity for Laguncularia racemosa to share dominance with Rhizophora mangle. Mortality due to the less severe 2001 event was greatest in the understory, probably because recovery of the protective canopy following the earlier freeze was still incomplete. Stand dynamics were static over the same period in nearby unimpacted sites. The probability of reaching temperatures as low as those recorded at a nearby meteorological station (≤3 °C) under several warming scenarios was simulated by applying 1° incremental temperature increases to a model developed from a 42-year temperature record. According to the model, the frequency of similar chilling events decreased from once every 1.9 years at present to once every 3.4 and 32.5 years with 1 and 4 °C warming, respectively. The large decrease in the frequency of these events would eliminate an important mechanism that maintains Dwarf forest structure, and promotes compositional diversity.
Ross, M.S., P.L. Ruiz, J.P. Sah, E. Hanan. 2009. Chilling damage in a changing climate in coastal landscapes of the sub-tropical zone: a case study from south Florida. Global Change Biology 15(7): 1817-1832.