Long-term dynamics of tropical walking sticks in response to multiple large-scale and intense disturbances

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Understanding the effects of disturbance and secondary succession on spatio-temporal patterns in the abundance of species is stymied by a lack of long-term demographic data, especially in response to infrequent and high intensity disturbances, such as hurricanes. Moreover, resistance and resilience to hurricane-induced disturbance may be mediated by legacies of previous land use, although such interactive effects are poorly understood, especially in tropical environments. We address these central issues in disturbance ecology by analyzing an extensive dataset, spanning the impacts of Hurricanes Hugo and Georges, on the abundance of a Neotropical walking stick, Lamponius portoricensis, in tabonuco rainforest of Puerto Rico during the wet and dry seasons from 1991 to 2007. By synthesizing data from two proximate sites in tabonuco forest, we show that resistance to Hurricane Hugo (97% reduction in abundance) was much less than resistance to Hurricane Georges (21% reduction in abundance). Based on a powerful statistical approach (generalized linear mixed-effects models with Poisson error terms), we documented that the temporal trajectories of abundance during secondary succession (i.e., patterns of resilience) differed between hurricanes and among historical land use categories, but that the effects of hurricanes and land use histories were independent of each other. These complex results likely arise because of differences in the intensities of the two hurricanes with respect to microclimatic effects (temperature and moisture) in the forest understory, as well as to time-lags in the response of L. portoricensis to changes in the abundance and distribution of preferred food plants (Piper) in post-hurricane environments.

Original Citation

Willig, M. R., Presley, S. J., & Bloch, C. P. (2011). Long-term dynamics of tropical walking sticks in response to multiple large-scale and intense disturbances. Oecologia, 165(2), 357-68. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-010-1737-7