DURHAM, N.H. – Large, extreme storms such as hurricanes, superstorms, typhoons, and tropical cyclones are becoming more frequent worldwide under a changing climate. Trying to assess which characteristics of a given storm have the most critical ecological impacts is like putting a puzzle together.
With colleagues around the nation and world, University of New Hampshire researchers have developed a way to assess the short-term and long-term ecological repercussions of major hurricanes, including how large storms affect watersheds, streams, and river networks. It allows scientists to compare various ecological responses in systems as diverse as coastal bays and forested watersheds.
The recommendations are based, in part, on the findings of research conducted by McDowell and his lab, and Adam Wymore, research assistant professor of natural resources and the environment, in the tropical Luquillo Mountains of Puerto Rico following hurricanes Irma and Maria. This new research is presented in BioScience in “A Research Framework to Integrate Cross-Ecosystem Responses to Tropical Cyclones” (DOI:10.1093/biosci/biaa034).
“Many scientists have looked at how individual systems respond to specific storms. However, because they use so many different approaches to describing a storm’s effect, it is difficult to draw robust conclusions that can be used to make predictions about how ecosystems will respond to future storms,” said William McDowell, professor of environmental science and researcher with the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station.
For example, storm surge, wind speed, rainfall, storm duration and size, as well as site characteristics such as the amount of wood debris, tree species present, and canopy height in a forest all can play important roles in how ecosystems are affected by hurricanes and superstorms. This is the first framework that takes these variables and others into account when assessing storm impacts and the resiliency of ecosystems.
“This framework resolves the differences among various approaches to characterizing large storms and their impacts. By developing a uniform way to measure storm strength and storm impact across many ecosystem types, we hope to be able to develop a way to assess storm damage that will help standardize the management of ecosystems and decrease our risks to storm damage,” McDowell said. “Hurricanes and superstorms will increasingly shape our world. A better understanding of how these cyclones affect ecosystem resistance and resilience will inform how we preserve and protect the critical benefits that ecosystems provide.”
Collaborators include Maria Chapela Lara, postdoctoral research associate in natural resources and the environment at UNH; Chris Patrick, Virginia Institute of Marine Science; James Hogan, Florida International University (lead author); Rusty Feagin and Thomas Huff, Texas A&M University, Austin; Gregory Starr, University of Alabama; Michael Ross, Elizabeth Whitman, Sara Wilson, John Kominoski, Rolando Santos, and Bradley Strickland, Florida International University; Teng-Chiu Lin, National Taiwan Normal University; Christine O’Connell and Whendee Silver, University of California, Berkeley; Beth Stauffer and Kelly Robinson, University of Louisiana, Lafayette; Jianhong Xue, Sarah Douglas, Victoria Congdon, and Brad Erisman, University of Texas, Austin; Brandi Reese, Simon Geist, Joseph Reustle, Edward Proffitt, Paul Montagna, Michael Wetz, Lily Walker, and Derek Hogan, Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi; Rachel Smith, University of Georgia; David Lagomasino, University of Maryland, College Park; Benjamin Branoff, University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Anna Armitage, Texas A&M University, Galveston; and Scott Rush, Mississippi State University; Nathan Hall, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Xiaoming Zou, University of Puerto Rico; Steven Pennings, University of Houston; Lih-Jih Wang, National Taiwan University; Chung-Te Chang, Tunghai University; and Marconi Campos-Cerqeira, Sieve Analytics.
This material is supported by the NH Agricultural Experiment Station, through joint funding of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award 1006760, and the state of New Hampshire. It also was supported by National Science Foundation workshop grant 1903760, and NSF Rapid Response research grants 1760006 1910811, and 1807533.
Founded in 1887, the NH Agricultural Experiment Station at the UNH College of Life Sciences and Agriculture is UNH’s original research center and an elemental component of New Hampshire’s land-grant university heritage and mission. We steward federal and state funding, including support from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, to provide unbiased and objective research concerning diverse aspects of sustainable agriculture and foods, aquaculture, forest management, and related wildlife, natural resources and rural community topics. We maintain the Woodman and Kingman agronomy and horticultural research farms, the Macfarlane Research Greenhouses, the Fairchild Dairy Teaching and Research Center, and the Organic Dairy Research Farm. Additional properties also provide forage, forests and woodlands in direct support to research, teaching, and outreach.
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