U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service



Aaron B. Shiels https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6774-4560

Date of this Version



Ecosphere. 2022;13:e4041.



This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License


Climate change and disturbance make it difficult to project long-term patterns of carbon sequestration in tropical forests, but large ecosystem experiments in these forests can inform predictions. The Canopy Trimming Experiment (CTE) manipulates two key components of hurricane disturbance, canopy openness and detritus deposition, in a tropical forest in Puerto Rico. We documented how the CTE and a real hurricane affected tree recruitment, biomass, and aboveground carbon storage over 15 years. In the CTE treatments, we trimmed branches, but we did not fell trees. We expected that during the 14-year period after initial canopy trimming, regrowth of branches and stems and stem recruitment stimulated by increased light and trimmed debris would help restore biomass and carbon loss due to trimming. Compared to control plots, in the trimmed plots recruitment of palms and dicot trees increased markedly after trimming, and stem diameters of standing trees increased. Data showed that recruitment of small trees adds little to aboveground carbon, compared to the amount in large trees. Nevertheless, this response restored pretreatment biomass and carbon in the experimental period. In particular, the experimental additions of trimmed debris on the forest floor seemed to stimulate increase in aboveground carbon. Toward the end of the experimental period, Hurricane Maria (Category 4 hurricane) trimmed and felled some trees but reduced aboveground carbon less in the plots (including untrimmed plots) than experimental trimming had. Thus, it appears that the amount of regrowth recorded after experimental trimming could also restore aboveground carbon in the forest after a severe hurricane in the same time span. However, Hurricane Maria, unlike the trimming treatments, felled large trees, and it may be that with predicted, more frequent severe hurricanes, that the continued loss of large trees would over the long term decrease aboveground carbon stored in this Puerto Rican forest and likewise in other tropical forests affected by cyclonic storms.