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The Impact of Cyclone Fanele on a Tropical Dry Forest in Madagascar

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ABSTRACT

Cyclones, which change tree communities and alter forest structure, are thought to have had a significant selective pressure on the flora and fauna of Madagascar. Very little information, however, is available on the actual impact of cyclones on Malagasy ecosystems. On 21 January 2009, Cyclone Fanele made landfall on the western coast of Madagascar with sustained winds of 185 km/h. We examined the immediate effects of the cyclone on tropical dry forest structure in the Kirindy Mitea National Park. In July and August 2009, we measured the height, diameter at breast height (dbh), and damage for 1361 trees in nine 25 × 25 m plots. We found that: (1) over 95 percent of trees experienced some sort of damage, including 8.8 percent mortality; (2) understory and emergent trees experienced significantly higher mortality than canopy trees; and (3) stem density was reduced 9.2±4.5 percent and biomass was reduced 13.4±8.1 percent after the cyclone. Dbh was the best predictor of trunk damage and mortality. This extensive alteration of forest structure will have a substantial short- and long-term impact on the biotic communities of western Madagascar.

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