, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 29-40

Severe hail damage to mangroves at Port Curtis, Australia

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Abstract

A hailstorm in October 1994 was found to have moderately or severely impacted on 5.3% of the mangrove forests in Port Curtis. All mangrove species showed evidence of hail damage, including the three most common species (Rhizophora stylosa, Ceriops tagal and Avicennia marina). Physical effects of hail damage included stripping of leaves from plants, holes punched through leaves, bruising to bark, divots removed from bark, branch and plant death. Species‐specific differences in vulnerability to the effects of hail were observed with C.tagal experiencing relatively higher mortality rates than the other two common mangrove species. A delayed pattern of mortality was observed in two species _ C.tagal and A.marina. Alterations to mangrove community structure included: (1) reductions in stem density, stem diameter and basal area, (2) reductions in canopy cover (based on a photographic index of foliage projective cover) and (3) changes in relative abundance of species in mangrove zones. Recovery was observed in some stands but others had not recovered to pre‐hail levels of canopy cover two years after the hailstorm. Recovery had occurred by regeneration of fresh leaves but no recruitment of young plants had been observed during the study. The forests in the impact area were dominated by either Ceriops tagal or Rhizophora stylosa with Avicennia marinaas a subdominant in places. C.tagal dominated forests within the impact area were relatively more severely affected (41.8% in the severe category) than R.stylosa dominated communities (only 17.4% in the severe category). This indicated that C.tagal dominated forests were more vulnerable to the effects of hail damage than R.stylosa dominated forests. In addition, hail‐impacted C.tagal dominated forests represented a relatively high percentage of the area of C.tagal dominated forests in Port Curtis (44.3%). This percentage was much higher than hail‐impacted R.stylosa dominated forests in Port Curtis (2.7%). These two factors – relatively severe impact on C.tagal communities and a relatively higher percentage affected within the Port Curtis area – illustrate that hailstorms, as a form of natural disturbance, are an important influence on the forest ecology of mangrove ecosystems in this region.