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Cumulative impacts of hurricanes on Florida mangrove ecosystems: Sediment deposition, storm surges and vegetation
1U.S. Geological Survey, Florida Integrated Science Center, 600 Fourth Street South, Saint Petersburg, Florida, USA 33701; E-mail: Tom_J_Smith@usgs.gov
Abstract: 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.
Key Words: basal area, ecosystem change, Hurricane Andrew, Hurricane Donna, Hurricane Wilma, Labor Day Storm, mortality, persistence, stability, steady state
Hurricanes impact mangrove forests through three primary mechanisms: wind damage, storm surges, and sediment deposition. High winds snap and topple stems, break off branches, and defoliate the canopy (Smith et al. 1994, Doyle et al. 1995). As a storm surge comes ashore stems taller may be uprooted and knocked over, yet when covered by the surge, shorter stems may be protected from the hurricane's winds (Smith et al. 1994). Storm surges carry suspended sediment that is deposited on the forest floor as the surge recedes (Risi et al. 1995). The impact of sediment deposition in the forest depends on the depth and type of sediment deposited. Craighead and Gilbert (1962) and Ellison (1998) reported that very fine sediments deposited from hurricane storm surges resulted in mangrove mortality. The deposited materials interfere with root and soil gas exchange leading to eventual death of the trees. Prolonged flooding from water remaining after the storm surge may have a similar effect. The damage inflicted by each of these mechanisms often varies according to species of mangrove (Smith 1992, Woodroffe and Grime 1999, Imbert et al. 2000, Sherman et al. 2001). Descriptions of hurricane impacts on mangroves have been reported many times in the literature. Rollet (1981) listed >30 reports published prior to 1976. Since then, the number of descriptive articles has increased substantially.
Only recently, however, have studies appeared that followed mangrove forest recovery using repeated measures over time from permanent forest plots. A value of a permanent plot network is that cumulative impacts can be measured accurately over time (Smith 2002). Imbert et al. (1996, 2000) studied the impact of Hurricane Hugo on the mangroves of Guadeloupe over an eight year period. Baldwin et al. (2001) examined regeneration dynamics in mangroves recovering from Hurricane Andrew in southeast Florida over a seven year period. Ward et al. (2006) worked on the southwest coast of Florida and reported on 13 yrs of recovery following Hurricane Andrew. Our study represents an opportunity to examine cumulative impacts of repeated hurricanes over time using permanent research plots in mangroves. We began work on the southwest coast of Florida immediately following the passage of Hurricane Andrew in August 1992 (Smith et al. 1994). All of the plots that were established following Hurricane Andrew were impacted by Hurricane Wilma in October 2005. Prior to our work, the southwest coastal Everglades had been struck by the Labor Day Storm of 1935 (Reimann 1940), and Hurricane Donna in 1960 (Craighead and Gilbert 1962). The Labor Day Storm was the first Saffir-Simpson Scale category 5 storm to hit the United States and Hurricane Donna was a category 4 (Houston and Powell 2003). These two storms followed relatively similar and parallel tracks. They moved northwest crossing the middle Florida Keys. Hurricane Donna crossed Cape Sable and then re-curved and made landfall near Naples, Florida (Dunn 1961). The Labor Day Storm passed west of Cape Sable, then moved northward off the west Florida coastline and made landfall near Cedar Key (McDonald 1935). Hurricane Andrew made landfall on the southeast Florida coast as a Category 5 storm, crossed the Florida peninsula, and exited into the Gulf of Mexico just north of the Lostmans River as a Category 4 storm (Landsea et al. 2004). Andrew's forward motion was rapid (≈ 35 km/hr) and it had a small, compact eye, only some 32 km in width (Mayfield et al. 1994). Hurricane Wilma approached south Florida from the southwest and made landfall near Everglades City as a Category 3 hurricane (Pasch et al. 2006, Beven et al. 2008). Wilma had an extremely large eye at landfall, with the northern eyewall passing south of Naples and the southern eyewall passing over a wide area from the Lostmans River south to Cape Sable (Pasch et al. 2006).
The objectives of our study were to: 1) accurately quantify the damage to mangroves from Hurricane Wilma both extensively over the landscape and intensively at selected sites; 2) relate forest damage to storm surge height and amount of sediment deposition; and 3) determine if damage from Wilma was related to damage from previous hurricanes. Additionally, because mangrove forest structure is the result of hydrology and geomorphic setting (Woodroffe 1994, Twilley and Rivera-Monroy 2005), we specifically tested the hypothesis that damage varied according to hydro-geomorphic type of mangrove forest (e.g., basin, island, riverine). Finally, we use historic reports concerning impacts from Hurricane Donna and the Labor Day Hurricane to examine cumulative impacts.
The study area comprises the far southwest coast of Florida from Flamingo north to Panther Key and lies mostly within Everglades National Park (Figure 1). Included are Big Sable Creek (BSC), a large tidal creek system with little freshwater runoff, and the Shark, Harney, Broad, Lostmans, and Chatham Rivers that drain the major freshwater sloughs of the Everglades. Approximately 10 to 20 km upstream from the Gulf of Mexico the rivers enter a series of shallow, interconnected bays. This mosaic of tidal rivers and bays breaks the coastal zone up into a network of large islands that comprise the southern portion of the 10,000 Islands (Schomer and Drew 1982). The intertidal vegetation is comprised primarily of mangrove forests with Rhizophora mangle L., Laguncularia racemosa (L.) Gaertn. f., and Avicennia germinans (L.) Stearn all present in varying abundance. The interiors of the largest islands are composed of brackish and freshwater marshes dominated by Spartina bakeri Merr., Cladium jamaicense Crantz, and Juncus roemerianus L. Tidal amplitudes range from 1-1.7 m and there is a marked annual variation in sea-level of 25 cm, with the high in October and the low in February (Stumpf and Haines 1998).
We measured storm surge at four hydrological monitoring stations that comprise a downstream to upstream gradient along the Shark-Harney River system (Figure 1, see Smith 2004). The datum is NAVD88. Big Sable Creek (BSC) is in a short (< 3 km) tidal creek on the northwest corner of Cape Sable. Some 200 m of mangrove forest and 200 m of mudflat separate it from the Gulf of Mexico. Shark River 3 (SH3) is located ≈ 3.9 km upstream from the gulf and is ≈ 50 m inland from the river. Shark River 4 (SH4) is on the Harney River, which, with the Shark, drains Tarpon Bay and the main freshwater slough of the Everglades, Shark River Slough. SH4 is 9.5 km upstream and is 40 m inland from the river. The most upstream station, Shark River 2 (SH2), is adjacent to Tarpon Bay, some 19.7 km from the Gulf. It is 50 m inland from the shore of the bay. Data from two additional stations were also recovered, but are not in the NAVD88 datum. The northernmost station Chatham River 3 (CH3) is on the Chatham River, 4.1 km upstream from the Gulf and is 40 m away from the river. Lostmans River 3 (LO3) is on a side creek of the main Lostmans River and is 2.1 km upstream of the river mouth. It is 30 m from the creek. We supplemented the sparse instrumental record with extensive field surveys. We recorded heights of material that was stranded in the remaining forest canopy as a best estimate of surge height at each location.
We measured sediment deposition from Hurricane Wilma along transects on the Lostmans, Broad, Harney, and Shark Rivers and at BSC (Figure 1). Each transect began where the river-creek entered the Gulf of Mexico and proceeded upstream until we could no longer find hurricane deposits, or the creek ended (e.g., BSC). At each site, we sampled near the river (within ≈ 10 m of the river bank) and away from the river (40-50 m into the mangrove forest). Sediment cores were collected with a Russian peat corer or PVC core tubes and the thickness of the Wilma layer was measured. Hurricane deposits are easily recognizable in the sedimentary record as they are composed of light grayish marine marl (Kang and Trefy 2003) on top of dark brown mangrove peat.
The permanent forest plots were set up in basin, riverine, and overwash island type mangroves (Lugo and Snedaker 1974, Woodroffe 1992) in the months following the passage of Hurricane Andrew, in August 1992. The plots are circular with a post marking the center. All stems > 1.5 m in height were identified, measured for diameter at breast height (dbh) and mapped by recording their distance and bearing from the center post. Surviving stems were permanently tagged with aluminum tree-tags. Additional permanent plots had been established by October 2005 when Hurricane Wilma crossed the coastline. Many of these plots were in areas that were un-affected by Hurricane Andrew but that had been impacted by the Labor Day Storm and Hurricane Donna, such as Cape Sable and near Flamingo in the south of Everglades National Park (Reimann 1940, Craighead and Gilbert 1962, Baldwin et. al. 1995). The plots were placed in, or very near to, stands that Craighead had sampled and were located based on his notes (Craighead 1966a). In our plots, mortality, recruitment, and growth have been recorded for each survey interval since the plots have been established. Some of that data has recently been discussed (Ward et al. 2006) and will not be duplicated here. Here we use data on percent % stem mortality and % basal area lost.
We calculated a first order approximation of the total mangrove forest area that had been catastrophically impacted by Hurricane Wilma using aerial photographs with a 0.33 m resolution, taken in January 2006 by PhotoScience, Inc. and geo-referenced by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute under contract with the National Park Service. We confined our analysis to the region of forest adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico as our field surveys indicated that was where most of the catastrophic damage had occurred. We define catastrophic damage as loss of > 75% of the stems fallen or broken (Smith et al. 1994). We visually interpreted the width of the damaged forest at regular intervals along the coast and simply multiplied average width by length of coast and summed for a total. Pre-Wilma photos were obtained for comparison (FDEP 2006). The photos were taken between October 2004 and March of 2005 and are rectified and geo-referenced with a resolution of 1 m.
Sediment deposition data were analyzed using a multiple linear regression, with distance upstream, distance into the mangrove forest and river system (a categorical factor) as the independent variables (Kleinbaum and Kupper 1978). Percent mortality and percent basal area lost from Hurricane Wilma were used as dependent variables in a multiple linear regressions with depth of the storm surge and amount of sediment deposition, as independent variables. The influence of forest type (basin, riverine, island), hurricane (Andrew versus Wilma), and species (the three species of mangroves) on percent mortality and percent basal area lost was examined with a three factor, fixed-effects, ANOVA. Type III sums of squares were used because the design was un-balanced (i.e., there were an un-equal number of plots in each forest-type category).
Results and Discussion
The storm surge from Hurricane Wilma was
Stage data from BSC show that Hurricane Wilma made landfall at low tide (Figure 4), and also indicate just how quickly water levels were rising. Water levels went from -1.44 to > 0.77 m, the last recorded data point, in 3 h. A gradient is also seen in the reduction of the surge as it propagated upstream in the Shark and Harney River system (BSC, SH 2-4, Figure 4). The two downstream stations were lost, but the recovered data indicate the rapid increase in stage. At SH4 the surge peaked at 1.02 m, while at SH2 the peak surge was reduced to 0.38 m (Figure 4).
A compilation of data from historical reports indicates that the pattern of flooding from Hurricane Andrew was relatively similar to that of Wilma, although lower (Figure 5). Rappaport (1993) and Mayfield et al. (1994) stated that Andrew produced storm tides of 1.5 m FLM and of 2.1 m at EGC. Risi et al. (1995) and Tedesco et al. (1995) estimated a storm tide of ≈ 4 m at NHB. Our observations following Andrew indicated that storm tides at LRS, LO3, and SH3 were lower (Figure 5). The path of Hurricane Donna combined with the curvature of the coastline, resulted in higher storm tides at the northern and southern ends of the study region and less in the center (Figure 5, see Craighead and Gilbert 1962, Harris 1963, Dunion et al. 2003). There are no estimates of storm tides for this region from the 1935 Labor Day Storm (McDonald 1935, Harris 1963).
We found measurable sediment deposits from Hurricane Wilma from Lostmans River to Flamingo, a 70 km stretch of coastline. The deposits in general were < 10.0 cm thick. We found no Wilma storm deposits in the back bays further than 15.5 km from the Gulf of Mexico. At CH3 a sediment layer was observable but minimal (< 0.1 cm). To the south at FLM we recorded a 3.0 cm sediment layer. For our transects, analysis revealed that sediment deposition was not different between river systems, therefore a single regression line could be used. Sediment deposition was significantly related to distance upstream, which accounted for 45.9% of the variance in the data (F1,52 = 48.7, p < 0.001, Figure 6). Distance into the forest accounted for an additional 5.1% of the variance in the dataset (F1,52 = 5.5, p < 0.05).
As Hurricane Andrew exited the coast and moved offshore the ensuing storm surge deposited sediment along a 13 km length of coast from Highland Beach to Shark Point (Risi et al. 1995). The deposits reached 10 km inland and impacted an area of ≈ 110 km2. In the mangrove forests inland from NHB the sediment layer was 5-7 cm thick (Risi et al. 1995). On the natural levee bordering the Broad River, 5 km upstream from the gulf, the deposits were 11-17 cm deep (Risi et al. 1995). Although the depositional layers we measured after Wilma were less than those reported by Risi et al. (1995) for Andrew, the total area impacted by Hurricane Wilma's storm deposits was about 400 km2, or 3.5 times larger than the area affected by Hurricane Andrew.
Impacts to Mangroves from Hurricane Wilma
Catastrophic damage to the mangrove forest was mainly confined to a narrow band (50-500 m wide) adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico (Figure 7). It extends for 50 km, starting 5 km south of BSC and extending to ≈ 10 km north of LRS. A few isolated areas of catastrophic damage were found to the north and south of this core region. The width of the band averages 250 m, meaning that, conservatively, 1,250 ha of mangrove forest suffered catastrophic disturbance during Hurricane Wilma.
At the plot and species level, % stem mortality and % basal area lost, were highly variable, ranging from 0 to 100%. Damage was not significantly correlated with either the amount of sediment deposited, distance from open water or height of the storm surge, at either the whole plot level or by species of mangrove.
Comparing Hurricanes Andrew and Wilma
Mangroves, Previous Large-Scale Disturbances, and Cumulative Impacts
We have already seen that Hurricane Andrew inflicted severe disturbance to some forests in our study area. Craighead and colleagues provided semi-quantitative notes on mortality from Hurricane Donna (Craighead and Gilbert 1962, Craighead 1966a, 1966b, 1971). For the coastal strip from the Shark River to EGC, 30-50% mortality was reported (Craighead and Gilbert 1962, Craighead 1966b). In the southern portion of the study area, mortality from Donna was higher: 100% at MRP, 80% at BF1 and 2, and 90-100% for interior location at BSC (Figure 9). Given that Donna passed over Cape Sable (Dunn 1960), this would be expected. The Labor Day Storm also severely influenced the Cape Sable region. Reimann (1940) described the mangroves along the Shark and Harney Rivers and reported that the mangroves in the lower Shark and Harney rivers had survived the 1935 storm and were in an intact and healthy condition. In reference to the Cape Sable area he stated that the mangrove forests were utterly devastated. It appears that the near total destruction of the mangrove forests on parts of Cape Sable initiated the formation of what are now extensive mudflats (Figure 10). Aerial photos from 1928 indicate the presence of mangrove forests to the edge of the creek network. In 1952 extensive mudflats existed. Bischoff (1995) postulated that it was disturbance from the Labor Day hurricane that initiated mudflat formation and we concur. Total removal of a mangrove forest canopy results in a phenomena called peat collapse and rapid loss in surface elevation (Cahoon et al. 2003). At several of our sites tree mortality is ongoing as heavily damaged and defoliated stems continue to perish and we are observing decreases in surface elevation (Smith, unpubl. data).
Portions of this research were supported by funding under the Hurricane Katrina Congressional Budget Supplemental Appropriation #2 to the USGS. Additional funding was provided by the Terrestrial, Freshwater and Marine Ecosystems Program of the USGS and by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (IA# W912EP-03). Establishment of the first permanent plots following Hurricane Andrew was funded by the National Science Foundation (OCE-93-00991 and DEB-9306317). The work was also supported by the National Science Foundation under Cooperative Agreements #DBI-0620409 and #DEB-9910514. Numerous individuals have assisted over the course of this research including: E. Ackterberg, S. Beeler, S. Cleaves, T. Doyle, L. Romero, and C. Walker. Professor Art Cohen and his students from the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, assisted with sediment deposition measurements. B. Boynton prepared Figure 5. Work was conducted under Everglades National Park Permits EVER-2005-SCI-0054 and EVER-2007-SCI-0090. Mention of company and / or product trade names does not imply endorsement by any agency of the U.S. Government. Comments from two anonymous reviewers improved earlier versions of the manuscript. Ms. Betsy Boyton worked her usual magic to make the figures look great.
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