On 4 October 1995, Hurricane Opal made landfall to the E of one of our long-term study sites at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge in Baldwin County, Alabama. The primary dunes were destroyed and seawater covered much of the site for several days after the storm. This natural event provided a unique opportunity to study changes in the dynamics of a population of Alabama beach mice (Peromyscus polionotus ammobates) following a catastrophic alteration to a primary component of their habitat mosaic. Mouse numbers at their posthurricane peak were 30% lower than those observed prehurricane. However, the probability of mice surviving between the bimonthly trapping period which included the hurricane was not significantly different from the average between period estimates. Overall, posthurricane survival was not significantly lower than prehurricane values. However, we observed a potential delayed effect in the form of unusually low survival during the summer of 1996 which coincided with a significant reduction in body mass. Approximately 47% of recaptures on the scrub/transition habitat in December 1995 were of mice originally marked in the beach habitat. This trend continued through April 1996 suggesting that the scrub/transition areas may provide a refuge after tropical storms. While Hurricane Opal was destructive, the immediate demographic changes were not significantly different from those driven by annual climatic cycles. The hurricane may have compromised the ability of the population to survive the difficult summer season.
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Vol. 140 • No. 2