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Relative vulnerability of the forests along southeastern African coasts to cyclones


Correspondence: Pete Bettinger (email:


The forests of southeastern Africa are vulnerable to damage imposed by tropical cyclones operating in the South Indian Ocean. We undertook a geographical analysis to determine the relative vulnerability of forests given tropical cyclones recorded during the 1959–2008 storm seasons. From this analysis, eastern coastal forests of Madagascar seem to be the most vulnerable, although return intervals for severe storms vary along the eastern coast, and are shorter (about 10 years) through the central portion of the country. Therefore, the central lowland to upper montane rainforests on the eastern coast seem to be more vulnerable to damage from tropical cyclones than others in the area. While not as extensive, western coastal forests of Madagascar are also as vulnerable in part due to the recurvature of storms in the Mozambique Channel. Though the coastal forests of Mozambique are all nearly equal in terms of vulnerability, the return interval for severe storms to this area is highly variable. The inland Miombo forests of southeast Africa are less vulnerable to damage from tropical cyclones; however, portions of western Mozambique and Zimbabwe have experienced strong tropical storms in the last 50 years. A number of caveats and limitations associated with the data and analyses are noted. Given the broad scale of the study, the relative vulnerability and the return intervals for severe storms should be considered general representations of these phenomena for the southeastern African coast and the island of Madagascar.