Simulated hurricane-induced changes in light and nutrient regimes change seedling performance in Everglades forest-dominant species
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Wind damage from cyclones can devastate the forest canopy, altering environmental conditions in the understory that affect seedling growth and plant community regeneration. To investigate the impact of hurricane-induced increases in light and soil nutrients as a result of canopy defoliation, we conducted a two-way factorial light and nutrient manipulation in a shadehouse experiment. We measured seedling growth of the dominant canopy species in the four Everglades forest communities: pine rocklands (Pinus elliottii var densa), cypress domes (Taxodium distichum), hardwood hammocks, and tree islands (Quercus virginiana and Bursera simaruba). Light levels were full sun and 50% shade, and nutrient levels coupled with an additional set of individuals that were subjected to a treatment mimicking the sudden effects of canopy opening from hurricane-induced defoliation and the corresponding nutrient pulse. Seedlings were measured weekly for height growth and photosynthesis, with seedlings being harvested after 16 weeks for biomass, leaf area, and leaf tissue N and 13C isotope ratio. Growth rates and biomass accumulation responded more to differences in soil nutrients than differences in light availability, with largest individuals being in the high nutrient treatments. For B. simaruba and P. elliottii, the highest photosynthetic rates occurred in the high light, high nutrient treatment, while T. distichum and Q. virginiana photosynthetic rates were highest in low light, high nutrient treatment. Tissue biomass allocation patterns remained similar across treatments, except for Q. virginiana, which altered above- and belowground biomass allocation to increase capture of limiting soil and light resources. In response to the hurricane simulation treatment, height growth increased rapidly for Q. virginiana and B. simaruba, with nonsignificant increases for the other two species. We show here that ultimately, hurricane-adapted, tropical species may be more likely to recolonize the forest canopy following a large-scale hurricane disturbance.
May, Jeremy L. and Oberbauer, Steven F., "Simulated hurricane-induced changes in light and nutrient regimes change seedling performance in Everglades forest-dominant species" (2021). All Faculty. 234.