Cross-scale responses of biodiversity to hurricane and anthropogenic disturbance in a tropical forest

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In studies of biodiversity, considerations of scale –the spatial or temporal domain to which data provide inference–are important because of the non-arithmetic manner in which species richness increases with area (and total abundance) and because fine-scale mechanisms (for example, recruitment, growth, and mortality of species) can interact with broad scale patterns (for example, habitat patch configuration) to influence dynamics in space and time. The key to understanding these dynamics is to consider patterns of environmental heterogeneity, including patterns produced by natural and anthropogenic disturbance. We studied how spatial variation in three aspects of biodiversity of terrestrial gastropods (species richness, species diversity, and nestedness) on the 16-ha Luquillo Forest Dynamics Plot (LFDP) in a tropical forest of Puerto Rico was affected by disturbance caused by Hurricanes Hugo and Georges, as well as by patterns of historic land use. Hurricane-induced changes in spatial organization of species richness differed from those for species diversity. The gamma components of species richness changed after the hurricanes and were significantly different between Hurricanes Hugo and Georges. Alpha and two beta components of species richness, one related to turnover among sites within areas of similar land use and one related to variation among areas of different land use, varied randomly over time after both hurricanes. In contrast, gamma components of species diversity decreased in Indistinguishable manners after both hurricanes, whereas the rates of change in the alpha component of species diversity differed between hurricanes. Beta components of diversity related to turnover among sites declined after both hurricanes in a consistent fashion. Those related to turnover amng areas with different historic land uses varied stochastically. The immediate effect of hurricanes was to reduce nestedness of gastropod assemblages. Thereafter, nestedness increased during post-hurricane secondary succession, and did so in the same way, regardless of patterns of historic land use. The rates of change in degree of nestedness during secondary succession were different after each hurricane as a result of differences in the severity and extent of the hurricane-induced damage. Our analyses quantified tempral changes in the spatial organization of biodiversity of gastropod assemblages during forest recovery from hurricane-induced damage in areas that had experienced different patterns of historic human land use, and documented the dependence of biodiversity on spatial scale. We hypothesize that cross-scale interactions, likely those between the local demographics of species at the fine scale and the landscape configuration of patches at the broad scale, play a dominant role in affecting critical transfer processes, such as dispersal, and its interrelationship with aspects of biodiversity. Cross-scale interactions have significant implications for the conservation of biodiversity, as the greatest threats to biodiversity arise from habitat modification and fragmentation associated with disturbance arising from human activities.

Original Citation

Willig M.R., Bloch C.P., Brokaw N., Higgins C., Thompson J., Zimmermann C.R. (2007). Cross-scale responses of biodiversity to hurricane and anthropogenic disturbance in a tropical forest. Ecosystems,10(5), 824-838. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-007-9054-7