On 22 September 1998, Hurricane Georges passed over the Dominican Republic causing extensive damage to a 4700 ha mangrove forest that has been the site of a detailed study of vegetation and ecosystem dynamics since 1994. We resurveyed the vegetation in permanent plots at 7 and 18 months after the hurricane to document structural damage of the forest and evaluate early recovery patterns. The intensity of damage was patchy across the landscape. Mortality (≥5 cm DBH) ranged from 14 to 100 percent (by density) among the 23 different plots and averaged 47.7 percent across all plots. Reductions in total basal area ranged from 9 to 100 percent, averaging 42.4 percent. Mortality increased by 9 percent between surveys at 7 and 18 months post-hurricane. Interspecific differences in susceptibility to wind damage appeared to be a primary factor contributing to spatial patterns in mortality. Laguncularia racemosa experienced much less mortality (26%) than either Rhizophora mangle (50%) or Avicennia germinans (64%), and plot-level mortality was strongly associated with differences in species composition. There were no clear relationships between canopy height and tree damage at this site. Over 80 percent of the of the surviving R. mangle trees exhibited less than 50 percent crown damage, whereas ca 60 percent of the L. racemosa survivors suffered almost complete (75–100%) crown loss. By 18 months after the hurricane, the percentage of L. racemosa trees in the 75 to 100 percent damage class was reduced to 20 percent; in contrast, the health of many R. mangle individuals appeared to be declining, as the percentage of trees in the 50 to 100 percent damage class increased from 16 to 36 percent. Understory light levels, as measured by the gap light index, increased from an average value of 3 percent in the pre-hurricane forest to 51 percent at 7 months after the hurricane and decreased slightly to 47 percent at 18 months. Few saplings (>1 m tall and <5 cm DBH) survived the hurricane; 72 percent of the tagged individuals in transect-based plots and 66 percent of saplings in pre-hurricane canopy gaps were killed. Seedling and sapling populations of all three species appear to be recovering rapidly although their densities still are lower than in the pre-hurricane forest. It is too early to predict the trajectory of forest recovery, and continued monitoring of the spatial and temporal patterns of forest development is needed to improve our understanding of the role that large-scale disturbance events play on the dynamics of mangrove forest ecosystems.
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Vol. 33 • No. 3