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Keywords:

  • cyclone resistance;
  • plant functional traits;
  • specific leaf area;
  • tropical rainforest;
  • wood density

Abstract  Cyclones cause profound immediate impacts on tropical rainforest trees, including defoliation, limb loss, snapping of stems and uprooting. Some studies have shown that plant functional traits such as tree size, buttress roots and wood density are correlated with these forms of cyclone damage. On 20 March 2006, Severe Tropical Cyclone Larry crossed the north Queensland coast and proceeded inland across the Atherton Tablelands, impacting the critically endangered Mabi Type 5b rainforest. We investigated the effects of Cyclone Larry on common tree species by categorizing damage to trees as uprooted, snapped, limbs damaged (light, moderate, severe) or upright and estimating levels of defoliation. Damage was then related to functional traits including tree size, presence of buttress roots, wood density, and leaf size and strength. Levels of damage differed between species. Tree size (diameter at breast height) and the presence of buttress roots were not related to damage levels. Wood density was significantly negatively correlated to proportion of trees with snapped stems and significantly positively correlated with the proportion of trees upright with no or light limb damage. Levels of defoliation were significantly related to leaf strength (specific leaf area – SLA) and to leaf width, but not other components of leaf size (area or length) or petiole length. Species with high wood density and low SLA (e.g. Argyrodendron spp.) were found to have high cyclone resistance, the ability to resist damage, while species with low wood density and high SLA (e.g. Dendrocnide photinophylla) exhibited low resistance. However, traits related to low resistance are also those linked to rapid growth and high cyclone resilience, the ability to recover from damage, so it is unlikely that the Mabi forest will experience long-term changes in floristic composition following Cyclone Larry.