Effects of multiple disturbances (fire and hurricane) on epiphyte community dynamics in a subtropical forest, Florida, U.S.A.

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We addressed the interacting effects of a natural large-scale fire and a subsequent major hurricane on relative positions of epiphytes in a subtropical forest. In Everglades National Park, subtropical hammocks (hardwood tree "islands"; burned and unburned) during the Ingraham Fire (1989) were surveyed for trees and epiphytic bromeliads (Tillandsia spp.) one year before, as well as one and five years after, Hurricane Andrew (1992). We measured trees (species, diameter, and status [alive/dead]) and epiphytes (species, height, host tree characteristics, substrate life status, and density). The fire decreased the height of epiphytes during the hurricane because branches and bark of trees killed by the fire were unstable epiphyte substrates in the high winds. Proportions of epiphytes on Quercus virginiana were equally increased after the hurricane in both unburned and burned hammocks; the large size and bark characteristics resulted in greater proportional survival of epiphytes on this species. During the five years following the hurricane, changes in the distributions of epiphytes generally were toward pre-hurricane distributions, but recovery was faster in unburned than burned hammocks. We conclude that disturbances that kill trees are likely to amplify the vertical reduction of epiphytes during a subsequent hurricane and that effects of a single disturbance on plant populations can be influenced by the disturbance history of the system, including different types of disturbances.

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