Impact and response of southwest Florida mangroves to the 2004 hurricane season
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Although hurricane disturbance is a natural occurrence in mangrove forests, the effect of widespread human alterations on the resiliency of estuarine habitats is unknown. The resiliency of mangrove forests in southwest Florida to the 2004 hurricane season was evaluated by determining the immediate response of mangroves to a catastrophic hurricane in areas with restricted and unrestricted tidal connections. The landfall of Hurricane Charley, a category 4 storm, left pronounced disturbances to mangrove forests on southwest Florida barrier islands. A significant and negative relationship between canopy loss and distance from the eyewall was observed. While a species-specific response to the hurricane was expected, no significant differences were found among species in the size of severely impacted trees. In the region farthest from the eyewall, increases in canopy density indicated that refoliation and recovery occurred relatively quickly. There were no increases or decreases in canopy density in regions closer to the eyewall where there were complete losses of crown structures. In pre-hurricane surveys, plots located in areas of management concern (i.e., restricted connection) had significantly lower stem diameter at breast height and higher stem densities than plots with unrestricted connection. These differences partially dictated the severity of effect from the hurricane. There were also significantly lower red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) seedling densities in plots with restricted connections. These observations suggest that delays in forest recovery are possible in severely impacted areas if either the delivery of propagules or the production of seedlings is reduced by habitat fragmentation.
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