Journal of Tropical Ecology

Mosaics of canopy openness induced by tropical cyclones in lowland rain forests with contrasting management histories in northeastern Australia

a1 Rainforest Cooperative Research Centre, School of Tropical Environment Studies and Geography, James Cook University, PO Box 6811, Cairns, Qld. 4870, Australia


Tropical Cyclone ‘Rona’ crossed the coast of the Daintree lowlands of northeastern Australia in 1999. This study reports on its impact on forest canopy openness at six lowland rain forest sites with contrasting management histories (old-growth, selectively logged and regrowth). Percentage canopy openness was calculated from individual hemispherical photographs taken from marked points below the forest canopy at nine plots per site 3–4 mo before the cyclone, and at the same points a month afterwards. Before the cyclone, when nine sites were visited, canopy openness in old-growth and logged sites was similar, but significantly higher in regrowth forest. After the cyclone, all six revisited sites showed an increase in canopy openness, but the increase was very patchy amongst plots and sites and varied from insignificant to severe. The most severely impacted site was an old-growth one, the least impacted a logged one. Although proneness to impact was apparently related to forest management history (old-growth being the most impacted), underlying local topography may have had an equally strong influence in this case. It was concluded that the likelihood of severe impact may be determined at the landscape-scale by the interaction of anthropogenic with meteorological, physiographic and biotic factors. In the long term, such interactions may caution against pursuing forest management in cyclone-prone areas.

(Accepted June 21 2000)

Key Words: Australia; canopy openness; cyclone; disturbance; hemiphots; management history; patch dynamics; rain forest; tropical.

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