Hurricane disturbances have profound impacts on ecosystem structure and function, yet their effects on ecosystem CO2 exchange have not been reported. In September 2004, our research site on a fire-regenerated scrub-oak ecosystem in central Florida was struck by Hurricane Frances with sustained winds of 113 km h−1 and wind gusts as high as 152 km h−1. We quantified the hurricane damage on this ecosystem resulting from defoliation: we measured net ecosystem CO2 exchange, the damage and recovery of leaf area, and determined whether growth in elevated carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere (Ca) altered this disturbance. The hurricane decreased leaf area index (LAI) by 21%, which was equal to 60% of seasonal variation in canopy growth during the previous 3 years, but stem damage was negligible. The reduction in LAI led to a 22% decline in gross primary production (GPP) and a 25% decline in ecosystem respiration (Re). The compensatory declines in GPP and Re resulted in no significant change in net ecosystem production (NEP). Refoliation began within a month after the hurricane, although this period was out of phase with the regular foliation period, and recovered 20% of the defoliation loss within 2.5 months. Full recovery of LAI, ecosystem CO2 assimilation, and ecosystem respiration did not occur until the next growing season. Plants exposed to elevated Ca did not sustain greater damage, nor did they recover faster than plants grown under ambient Ca. Thus, our results indicate that hurricanes capable of causing significant defoliation with negligible damage to stems have negligible effects on NEP under current or future CO2-enriched environment.
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