The coexistence of hurricanes, coral reefs, and rainforests in the Caribbean demonstrates that highly structured ecosystems with great diversity can flourish in spite of recurring exposure to intense destructive energy. Coral reefs develop in response to wave energy and resist hurricanes largely by virtue of their structural strength. Limited fetch also protects some reefs from fully developed hurricane waves. While storms may produce dramatic local reef damage, they appear to have little impact on the ability of coral reefs to provide food or habitat for fish and other animals. Rainforests experience an enormous increase in wind energy during hurricanes with dramatic structural changes in the vegetation. The resulting changes in forest microclimate are larger than those on reefs and the loss of fruit, leaves, cover, and microclimate has a great impact on animal populations. Recovery of many aspects of rainforest structure and function is rapid, though there may be long-term changes in species composition. While resistance and repair have maintained reefs and rainforests in the past, human impacts may threaten their ability to survive.
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Vol. 29 • No. 2