Date of this Version
Forest Ecology and Management 332 (2014) 118–123.
Hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons are common disturbances in many island and coastal forests. There is a lack of understanding of the importance to forest biota of the two major physical aspects that occur simultaneously during a hurricane: canopy disturbance and detritus (debris) deposition onto the ground. Using a replicated factorial design, our study involved experimentally determining the independent and interactive effects of canopy opening and debris additions to the forest floor on densities of coqui frogs (Eleutherodactylus coqui). Coquies are the dominant amphibian, and second most common vertebrate species, in the Luquillo Experimental Forest (LEF), a montane, tropical rainforest in northeastern Puerto Rico that frequently experiences hurricanes. Frogs were sampled in all twelve 30 x 30 m plots at three periods prior to installing treatments (July 2003, January 2004, July 2004), and at months 1, 3, 6, and 12 post-treatment. The degree of canopy opening and amount of debris deposited onto the forest floor by our experimental treatments closely mimicked conditions resulting from Hurricane Hugo, a severe hurricane that passed over the LEF in 1989. Based on findings from past studies involving natural hurricanes in the LEF, we predicted that coqui densities would increase in response to debris additions, and decrease or remain unchanged in response to canopy disturbance. However, we found that debris deposition had no significant effect on coqui density and that the opening of the canopy was the dominant aspect affecting coqui by significantly reducing their densities. We identified several possible explanations for the decreased coqui densities in open-canopy plots, including decreased litter moisture and insect prey, and temporal and spatial scales associated with disturbance that may have influenced coqui behavior. Following natural hurricanes, and in light of our findings from experimental hurricane impacts, we expect that coquies benefit from patches of intact canopy while suffering reduced densities in opencanopy settings. Furthermore, based on our study and other experimental forest studies involving frogs, future forest practices that remove significant canopy should probably be viewed as having an initially (up to 1 year) negative effect on the frog community.