Legacy effects of drought on tree growth responses to hurricanes
Natural perturbations, including hurricanes and severe droughts, are becoming more frequent and intense in the tropics, yet our understanding of forest responses to these events is still limited. While the relationships between extreme climatic events and tree mortality are frequently studied, responses of trees that survived such perturbations have been rarely reported. Perturbations and their effects can be quite variable, and trees can respond both positively and negatively to them, depending on their sensitivity and opportunistic behavior. Understanding the potential variation in responses both within and among species is important for building predictions of forest responses. We studied tree growth responses (i.e., changes relative to standard conditions) to hurricanes and drought events in Puerto Rico across six common and broadly distributed species. We examined whether there is a congruence in responses to these contrasting extreme climatic events. We show that trees are particularly susceptible to droughts but display a wide range of responses to hurricanes. Despite the high stochasticity in the impacts of hurricanes, trees that showed reduced growth during previous droughts tend to show reduced growth during the hurricanes as well. Our results demonstrate that trees subjected to different and successive major climatic stresses have consistent declines in their performance. Projected increases in the severity of droughts and tropical storms could have an accumulated, and possibly compound, impact on tree growth. Long-term demographic studies are necessary to understand legacy effects of species responses to extreme climatic perturbations.