With fierce winds and flooding rains, hurricanes can be disasters for people -- and for ecosystems. These devastating storms may have major effects on tropical forests, demolishing forest canopies and leaving behind debris that piles up on forest floors. But new research suggests that the ecological disturbances caused by hurricanes may -- in the long-term -- have positive impacts on tropical forests. Scientists at the National Science Foundation's co-located Luquillo Critical Zone Observatory and Long-Term Ecological Research sites in Puerto Rico evaluated the impacts of a decade or more of landfalling hurricanes. The ecologists found that in some cases, forest disturbances caused by hurricanes led to increased levels of nutrients in soils. For tropical forests, these are the building blocks of ecosystem resilience. Studying the effects of severe storms on soil carbon and nutrient cycling in the Luquillo Canopy Trimming Experiment is enabling researchers to make better predictions of hurricane fallout on tropical forest ecosystems.
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