Factors Affecting Tropical Tree Damage and Survival after Catastrophic Wind Disturbance

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Abstract

The structure and dynamics of cyclone-prone tropical forests are driven in part by variation in tree species resistance to and survival after wind-induced structural damage. We determined the factors associated with tree damage and 3-yr survival following Category 5 Cyclone Olaf on the Polynesian island of Ta'u, American Samoa. Despite sustaining a high rate of severe damage (34.6% of all trees snapped, 23.0% uprooted), system resilience was high with 74.3 percent stem survival overall and an annual mortality rate of 7.9 percent compared with 2.1 percent in nearby undisturbed late successional forest. Three-yr survival rate of trees sustaining severe damage was 63.1 percent, compared to about 89 percent for trees sustaining only branch loss or defoliation. Three-yr survival differed according to damage type, 78.5 percent after snapping vs. 38.4 percent after uprooting. Species differed widely in resistance to and survival after snapping and uprooting. Several species and individual traits were associated with the probability of snapping or uprooting; however, wood density was the only species trait consistently, and negatively, associated with the probability of sustaining either damage type. Survival after snapping was negatively associated with the proportion of the tree snapped off, which was determined by individual tree architecture. Species growth rate was negatively associated with survival after uprooting, indicating the importance of shade tolerance for survival after uprooting. Thus, whereas species traits seemed to exclusively underpin resistance to and survival after uprooting, they only partly accounted for snapping resistance, and did not determine the intensity of snap damage or survival after snapping. Our results highlight the importance of considering each damage type separately when considering ecological trade-offs.

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