Hurricanes have shaped the structure of mangrove forests in the Everglades via wind damage, storm surges and sediment deposition. Immediate effects include changes to stem size-frequency distributions and to species relative abundance and density. Long-term impacts to mangroves are poorly understood at present. We examine impacts of Hurricane Wilma on mangroves and compare the results to findings from three previous storms (Labor Day, Donna, Andrew). Surges during Wilma destroyed ≈ 1,250 ha of mangroves and set back recovery that started following Andrew. Data from permanent plots affected by Andrew and Wilma showed no differences among species or between hurricanes for % stem mortality or % basal area lost. Hurricane damage was related to hydro-geomorphic type of forest. Basin mangroves suffered significantly more damage than riverine or island mangroves. The hurricane by forest type interaction was highly significant. Andrew did slightly more damage to island mangroves. Wilma did significantly more damage to basin forests. This is most likely a result of the larger and more spatially extensive storm surge produced by Wilma. Forest damage was not related to amount of sediment deposited. Analyses of reports from Donna and the Labor Day storm indicate that some sites have recovered following catastrophic disturbance. Other sites have been permanently converted into a different ecosystem, namely intertidal mudflats. Our results indicate that mangroves are not in a steady state as has been recently claimed.
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Vol. 29 • No. 1