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Effects of Tropical Cyclones Ofa and Val on the Structure of a Samoan Lowland Rain Forest

Thomas Elmqvist, William E. Rainey, Elizabeth D. Pierson and Paul A. Cox
Biotropica
Vol. 26, No. 4 (Dec., 1994), pp. 384-391
DOI: 10.2307/2389232
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2389232
Page Count: 8
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Effects of Tropical Cyclones Ofa and Val on the Structure of a Samoan Lowland Rain Forest
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Abstract

In February 1990, tropical cyclone Ofa struck Western Samoa with very strong winds (in excess of 200 km/hr). In December 1991, less than 22 months later, tropical cyclone Val struck the same area with similar intensity. In the moist lowland forest of the Tafua Rain Forest Reserve, Savai'i, Western Samoa, we examined the effects of the two cyclones on forest structure, tree mortality, and interspecific differences in damage. Average mortality of trees was high after both cyclones (28% and 33%, respectively). In one forest area, subject to a fire after the first storm, mortality was more than 90 percent. The frequency of uprooted trees was 31 percent after Ofa, but only 16 percent after Val. Uprooting was significantly more frequent among species lacking buttresses or stilt roots. As a combined effect of the two cyclones, the lowland forest of Tafua suffered a 53 percent tree mortality, with remaining standing trees being severely damaged (topped and with a substantial reduction of main branches). Average tree density dropped from an estimated 476 trees/ha (>5 cm DBH), before Ofa to 225 trees/ha after Val. Existent gap sizes are reflected by the changes in mean canopy cover which decreased from nearly 100 percent before Ofa to 27 percent after Val. Post-cyclone recovery is often observed to be very rapid, but the very large gaps created in the Tafua forest and the simultaneous loss of the whole guild of vertebrate seed dispersers (flying foxes and fruit pigeons) suggests it will be a long time before the upper canopy is once again closed.

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