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Keywords:

  • Tropical cyclone;
  • savana;
  • wind;
  • disturbance;
  • trees

Abstract  The role of tropical cyclones in structuring tropical rainforests has long been recognized in the Americas and northern Australia. However, their role in the dynamics of Australian savannas has received little attention compared with the effects of fire and drought. In April 2006, Tropical Cyclone Monica caused trees to be snapped or uprooted across a swath about 50 km wide and 130 km inland in northern Australia. The proportion of trees damaged was assessed using on-ground surveys and interpretation of aerial photographs along the cyclone path and along several perpendicular transects. From these data, a relationship between the damage to trees and estimated maximum gust speed was developed. From knowledge of gust recurrence, curves were then derived describing the changes with distance inland in the average recurrence interval for tree windthrow events. These relationships were consistent with the historical record of tree damage in the northwest of the Northern Territory. It was concluded that windthrow has profound, but hitherto unrecognized implications for ecological processes such as tree dynamics and fluxes of carbon and water in Australian tropical savannas.