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Hurricane Impacts to Tree Islands in Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, Florida

Cristina A. Ugarte1, Laura A. Brandt2, Stefani Melvin2, Frank J. Mazzotti3, Danielle Oguracek3 and Ken G. Rice4
1School of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of Florida, Everglades National Park Field Station, Homestead, FL, USA
2U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, A.R.M. Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, Boynton Beach, FL, USA
3Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, FLREC, University of Florida, Fort Lauderdale, FL, USA
4U.S. Geological Survey, Florida Integrated Science Center, FLREC, University of Florida, Field Station, Fort Lauderdale, FL, USA

Tree islands, small wetland forested communities, imbedded in a matrix of freshwater marsh, characterize Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in South Florida. These forests have been exposed to repeated hurricanes over the years, yet the more recent establishment and spread of invasive exotics, in addition to hurricane impacts may alter these communities and prolong recovery times. During the fall of 2004, two hurricanes, Frances and Jeanne, caused damage to these tree islands. We examined the spatial extent of damage to tree islands and tree-species across the refuge by sampling 74 islands. Each tree island was assigned an overall damage rating based on both the openness of the canopy and the type and quantity of damage received. Distance from the eye-wall of the hurricanes, tree island size, average tree height on the island, and relative abundance of invasive exotic plants were examined as predictors of damage. Over 85% of the sampled tree islands had damage. Most tree islands were found to have moderate damage. Swamp bays (Persea palustris (Raf.)Sarg.) had more snapped trunks than Dahoon Holly (Ilex cassine L.) and Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera L.). Tree height was the only significant predictor of damage to tree islands. Fifty eight percent of the tree islands sampled had either Lygodium microphyllum (Cav.) R. Br. and or Melaluca quinquenervia (Cav.) S.T. Blake. The only island with severe damage had abundant L. microphyllum that appeared to have caused the entire canopy to collapse. In addition, we resampled islands in 2005 after Hurricane Wilma to assess additional damage. There was more damage to islands after 2005. These hurricanes present a unique opportunity to investigate recovery patterns of tree islands in an ecosystem dominated by invasive exotics. In particular, they also provide an opportunity to examine patterns of spread and recruitment of L. microphyllum and M. quinquenervia. If damage sustained to tree islands and location of island within the refuge are important predictors of invasiveness, then managers can use this information to help prioritize exotic plant removal efforts.

Contact Information: C.A. Ugarte, School of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of Florida, Everglades National Park Field Station, 40001 State Road 9336, Homestead, FL, 33034, Phone: 305-242-7869, Fax: 305-242-7836, Email: caugarte@ifas.ufl.edu


(This abstract is from the 2006 Greater Everglades Ecosystem Restoration Conference.)

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