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Keywords:

  • canopy cover;
  • edges;
  • hurricane;
  • spatial autocorrelation;
  • wind damage

Abstract  If changes in the structural characteristics of rainforest at edges are caused by wind, then physical damage from a tropical cyclone might be greatest at edges or in small fragments that have a high proportion of edge. We tested whether this was true of a fragmented rainforest landscape impacted by a category 4 severe tropical cyclone in March 2006. Six structural variables (canopy cover, canopy height, cover of ground vegetation, leaf litter, stem density and counts of woody debris) were surveyed at 18 rainforest sites (six small linear remnants, and both edges and interiors of six large remnants) on the Atherton Tableland in north-eastern Queensland, Australia. Data collected 7 and 12 months after the passage of Cyclone Larry were compared with an identical survey conducted 4 years prior to the cyclone. The cyclone had large effects across many components of forest structure. However, sites within 30 m of forest edges in small and large remnants were not impacted more than the interiors of large remnants. It is likely that the high wind intensity from severe tropical cyclones overrides the modest wind protection provided by surrounding forest. The cyclone's effects were highly patchy at local scales (0.5–1.0 km), leading to an increase in among-site variation in forest structure and the disappearance of significant spatial autocorrelation among large remnant edge-interior site pairs which had existed prior to the cyclone. The main effect of Cyclone Larry at these study sites was to increase the spatial heterogeneity of forest structure at local scales.