The Frequency of Cyclonic Wind Storms Shapes Tropical Forest Dynamism and Functional Trait Dispersion
As cyclonic wind storms (hurricanes and typhoons) increase in frequency and intensity with climate change, it is important to understand their effects on the populations and communities of tropical trees they impact. Using tree demographic data from four large, tropical forest dynamics plots that differ in cyclonic storm frequency, we compare tree population and community dynamics. Additionally, we assess the effect of cyclonic storms on three functional traits, specific leaf area, wood density, and tree height of the dynamic tree assemblages. Mortality, growth and recruitment rates and the intrinsic rates of population growth of species differed across the plots, and were most dynamic, especially for stems 1–2 cm in diameter, at the plot which had an intermediate level of cyclonic storm frequency. Functional assemblages of species had the greatest degree of temporal variation in relation to disturbance, as measured by the change in functional divergence for the two plots with more intermediate cyclonic storm recurrence. Therefore, cyclonic storms affecting these plots generally have a greater effect on forest composition and dynamism than comparable cyclonic storms do on the plot which experiences cyclonic storms more frequently. Thus, we provide some evidence that community-wide demographic resistance to cyclonic storms is generally lower at an intermediate frequency of storms. While cyclonic storm strength and timing are important determinants of the within forest variation in tree dynamics and functional trait assemblages, we also show that cyclonic storm timing and frequency shapes tropical forest dynamics and functional composition across forests. We conclude that, over a given time interval, sites with intermediate levels of damaging cyclonic wind disturbance express a greater potential for life-history variation in the forest community, when compared to sites with less or more frequent disturbance.