, Volume 10, Issue 5, pp 824–838 | Cite as

Cross-Scale Responses of Biodiversity to Hurricane and Anthropogenic Disturbance in a Tropical Forest

  • Michael R. WilligEmail author
  • Christopher P. Bloch
  • Nicholas Brokaw
  • Christopher Higgins
  • Jill Thompson
  • Craig R. Zimmermann


In studies of biodiversity, considerations of scale—the spatial or temporal domain to which data provide inference—are important because of the non-arithmetic manner in which species richness increases with area (and total abundance) and because fine-scale mechanisms (for example, recruitment, growth, and mortality of species) can interact with broad scale patterns (for example, habitat patch configuration) to influence dynamics in space and time. The key to understanding these dynamics is to consider patterns of environmental heterogeneity, including patterns produced by natural and anthropogenic disturbance. We studied how spatial variation in three aspects of biodiversity of terrestrial gastropods (species richness, species diversity, and nestedness) on the 16-ha Luquillo Forest Dynamics Plot (LFDP) in a tropical forest of Puerto Rico was affected by disturbance caused by Hurricanes Hugo and Georges, as well as by patterns of historic land use. Hurricane-induced changes in spatial organization of species richness differed from those for species diversity. The gamma components of species richness changed after the hurricanes and were significantly different between Hurricanes Hugo and Georges. Alpha and two beta components of species richness, one related to turnover among sites within areas of similar land use and one related to variation among areas of different land use, varied randomly over time after both hurricanes. In contrast, gamma components of species diversity decreased in indistinguishable manners after both hurricanes, whereas the rates of change in the alpha component of species diversity differed between hurricanes. Beta components of diversity related to turnover among sites declined after both hurricanes in a consistent fashion. Those related to turnover among areas with different historic land uses varied stochastically. The immediate effect of hurricanes was to reduce nestedness of gastropod assemblages. Thereafter, nestedness increased during post-hurricane secondary succession, and did so in the same way, regardless of patterns of historic land use. The rates of change in degree of nestedness during secondary succession were different after each hurricane as a result of differences in the severity and extent of the hurricane-induced damage. Our analyses quantified temporal changes in the spatial organization of biodiversity of gastropod assemblages during forest recovery from hurricane-induced damage in areas that had experienced different patterns of historic human land use, and documented the dependence of biodiversity on spatial scale. We hypothesize that cross-scale interactions, likely those between the local demographics of species at the fine scale and the landscape configuration of patches at the broad scale, play a dominant role in affecting critical transfer processes, such as dispersal, and its interrelationship with aspects of biodiversity. Cross-scale interactions have significant implications for the conservation of biodiversity, as the greatest threats to biodiversity arise from habitat modification and fragmentation associated with disturbance arising from human activities.


biodiversity; gastropods; historic land use; nestedness; Puerto Rico; spatial heterogeneity; species diversity; species richness; succession; temporal heterogeneity; tropical forest 



This research was supported by grants BSR-8811902, DEB 9411973, DEB 0080538, and DEB 0218039 from NSF to the Institute for Tropical Ecosystem Studies, University of Puerto Rico, and to the International Institute of Tropical Forestry, USDA Forest Service, as part of the Long-Term Ecological Research Program in the Luquillo Experimental Forest. The USDA Forest Service, US Department of Energy, the University of Puerto Rico, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Texas Tech University, and the University of Connecticut provided additional support. We are grateful to Steven J. Presley for rendering editorial assistance, as well as to two anonymous reviewers and Donald L. DeAngelis, for critical comments on an earlier version of the manuscript that enhanced clarity and conceptual development. Thomas O. Crist kindly made the program PARTITION available for use in estimating hierarchical spatial components of biodiversity. We thank the staff of El Verde Field Station, as well as our students and colleagues, too many to name individually, who assisted with field work on gastropods over the years. Finally, we thank Debra Peters for the invitation to contribute to the Special Feature, and for her insightful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael R. Willig
    • 1
    Email author
  • Christopher P. Bloch
    • 2
    • 3
  • Nicholas Brokaw
    • 4
  • Christopher Higgins
    • 5
  • Jill Thompson
    • 4
  • Craig R. Zimmermann
    • 2
  1. 1.Center for Environmental Sciences and Engineering and Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of ConnecticutStorrsUSA
  2. 2.Ecology Program, Department of Biological SciencesTexas Tech UniversityLubbockUSA
  3. 3.Department of Biological SciencesBridgewater State CollegeBridgewaterUSA
  4. 4.Institute for Tropical Ecosystem StudiesUniversity of Puerto RicoSan JuanUSA
  5. 5.Department of Biological SciencesTarleton State UniversityStephenvilleUSA

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