A new publication by VITRI staff

Forest damage caused by cyclones driven by wind speed, mediated by topographical exposure & tree characteristics

Damage to tropical forests caused by cyclones is driven by wind speed but mediated by topographical exposure and tree characteristics

Thomas Ibanez, David Bauman, Shin-ichiro Aiba, Thomas Arsouze, Peter J. Bellingham, Chris Birkinshaw, Philippe Birnbaum, Timothy J. Curran, Saara J. DeWalt, John Dwyer, Thierry Fourcaud, Janet Franklin, Takashi S. Kohyama, Christophe Menkes, Dan J. Metcalfe, Helen Murphy, Robert Muscarella, Gregory M. Plunkett, Chanel Sam, Edmund Tanner, Benton N. Taylor, Jill Thompson, Tamara Ticktin, Marika V. Tuiwawa, Maria Uriarte, Edward L. Webb, Jess K. Zimmerman, Gunnar Keppel. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.17317

ABSTRACT: Each year, an average of 45 tropical cyclones affect coastal areas and potentially impact forests. The proportion of the most intense cyclones has increased over the past four decades and is predicted to continue to do so. Yet, it remains uncertain how topographical exposure and tree characteristics can mediate the damage caused by increasing wind speed. Here, we compiled empirical data on the damage caused by 11 cyclones occurring over the past 40 years, from 74 forest plots representing tropical regions worldwide, encompassing field data for 22,176 trees and 815 species. We reconstructed the wind structure of those tropical cyclones to estimate the maximum sustained wind speed (MSW) and wind direction at the studied plots. Then, we used a causal inference framework combined with Bayesian generalised linear mixed models to understand and quantify the causal effects of MSW, topographical exposure to wind (EXP), tree size (DBH) and species wood density (ρ) on the proportion of damaged trees at the community level, and on the probability of snapping or uprooting at the tree level. The probability of snapping or uprooting at the tree level and, hence, the proportion of damaged trees at the community level, increased with increasing MSW, and with increasing EXP accentuating the damaging effects of cyclones, in particular at higher wind speeds. Higher ρ decreased the probability of snapping and to a lesser extent of uprooting. Larger trees tended to have lower probabilities of snapping but increased probabilities of uprooting. Importantly, the effect of ρ decreasing the probabilities of snapping was more marked for smaller than larger trees and was further accentuated at higher MSW. Our work emphasises how local topography, tree size and species' wood density together mediate cyclone damage to tropical forests, facilitating better predictions of the impacts of such disturbances in an increasingly windier world.