, Volume 22, Issue 3, pp 175-190

Global climatic change, hurricanes, and a tropical forest

Abstract

Most, if not all forests in the Caribbean are subject to occasional disturbances from hurricanes. If current general circulation model (GCM) predictions are correct, with doubled atmospheric CO2 (2 × CO2), the tropical Atlantic will be between 1 °C and 4 °C warmer than it is today. With such a warming, more than twice as many hurricanes per year could be expected in the Caribbean. Furthermore, Emanuael (1987) indicates that in a warmed world the destructive potential of Atlantic hurricanes could be increased by 40% to 60%. While speculative, these increases would dramatically change the disturbance regimes affecting tropical forests in the region and might alter forest structure and composition. Global warming impacts through increased hurricane damage on Caribbean forests are presented.

An individual tree, gap dynamics forest ecosystem model was used to simulate the range of possible hurricane disturbance regimes which could affect the Luquillo Experimental Forest in Puerto Rico. Model storm frequency ranged from no storms at all up to one storm per year; model storm intensity varied from no damage up to 100% mortality of trees. The model does not consider the effects of changing temperature and rainfall patterns on the forest. Simulation results indicate that with the different hurricane regimes a range of forest types are possible, ranging from mature forest with large trees, to an area in which forest trees are never allowed to reach maturity.