Species employ diverse strategies to cope with natural disturbance, but the importance of these strategies for maintaining tree species diversity in forests has been debated. Mechanisms that have the potential to promote tree species coexistence in the context of repeated disturbance include life history trade-offs in colonization and competitive ability or in species' ability to survive at low resource conditions and exploit the temporary resource-rich conditions often generated in the wake of disturbance (successional niche). Quantifying these trade-offs requires long-term forest monitoring and modeling.
We developed a hierarchical Bayes model to investigate the strategies tree species employ to withstand and recover from hurricane disturbance and the life history trade-offs that may facilitate species coexistence in forests subject to repeated hurricane disturbance. Unlike previous approaches, our model accommodates temporal variation in process error and observations from multiple sources. We parameterized the model using growth and mortality data from four censuses of a 16-ha plot taken every five years (1990–2005), together with damage data collected after two hurricanes and annual seed production data (1992–2005).
Species' susceptibilities to hurricane damage as reflected by changes in diameter growth and fecundity immediately following a storm were weak, highly variable, and unpredictable using traditional life history groupings. The lower crowding conditions (e.g., high light) generated in the wake of storms, however, led to greater gains in growth and fecundity for pioneer and secondary-forest species than for shade-tolerant species, in accordance with expectation of life history. We found moderate trade-offs between survival in high crowding conditions, a metric of competitive ability, and long-distance colonization. We also uncovered a strong trade-off between mean species fecundity in low crowding conditions, a metric of recovery potential, and competitive ability. Trade-offs in competitive and colonization ability, in addition to successional niche processes, are likely to contribute to species persistence in these hurricane-impacted forests. The strategies species employ to cope with hurricane damage depend on the degree to which species rely on sprouting, repair of adult damage, changes in demographic rates in response to enhanced resource availability after storms, or long-distance dispersal as recovery mechanisms.