Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Hurricane's Perfect Timing Brings A Scientific Bonanza

Date:
August 4, 1998
Source:
University Of California, Davis
Summary:
In October 1996, Hurricane Lili was a killer in Central America. In Cuba, it destroyed homes and cane crops. But at its final landfall, among the small islands of the central Bahamas, the great storm was a stroke of extraordinary fortune for three American scientists -- a catastrophe that created in hours the natural conditions they had speculated about for 20 years.

In October 1996, Hurricane Lili was a killer in Central America. In Cuba, itdestroyed homes and cane crops. But at its final landfall, among the smallislands of the central Bahamas, the great storm was a stroke of extraordinaryfortune for three American scientists -- a catastrophe that created in hours thenatural conditions they had speculated about for 20 years.

The resulting information may answer long-standing questions about catastrophicimpacts on ecosystems, and could help conservationists plan better ways topreserve natural habitat.

"This was the experience, not of one lifetime, but of several lifetimes," saidone of the three scientists, UC Davis ecologist Thomas Schoener, who is stillamazed by the story two years later.

"I think it's unique in science," Schoener continued. "You have here a verydestructive event that strikes any given site very infrequently, theexperimental site was very well studied for a number of years, and theinvestigators not only were there during and after the hurricane, but also hadcompleted their annual population censuses just hours before the storm arrived. It won't happen again in scientific research."

A description of the adventure from UC Davis ecologist David Spiller, WashingtonUniversity evolutionary biologist Jonathan Losos, and Schoener appears in thisFriday's issue of the journal Science.

On Oct. 18, 1996, Spiller and Losos had just returned to Great Exuma Island fromsurveying the spider and lizard populations on 19 smaller islands nearby. Thework was part of a long-term study of the islands' food web.

On Great Exuma, the researchers found faxed weather bulletins from Schoener, whowas in Davis, that warned of Hurricane Lili's approach. In darkness, as thewinds rose to gale force, they helped their Bahamian friends board up buildings,then collected their irreplaceable notebooks and headed for a sturdy house onhigher ground.

Soon, the researchers write in the Science article, "The highly improbablehappened. ... Hurricane Lili, the first major hurricane to strike anywhere inthe Exumas since 1932, passed directly over our study site with sustained windsof 90 knots [about 110 miles per hour] and a storm surge of nearly 5 meters[about 15 feet]."

They emerged after the storm, Spiller said, to find roofs missing, sailboatscapsized and their 15-foot research boat resting atop a clump of trees.

The boat was recovered and, the Science article continues, "The next day, assoon as the storm subsided, and for 3 days thereafter, we recensused populationson all the islands."

Then, and in repeated observations during the next year, the researchers foundevidence for a hypothesis advanced by Schoener in 1983: When Anolis lizards aremissing from small Caribbean islands with lizard-friendly habitat, hurricanesare to blame.

Their unprecedented before-and-after data, the authors write, also helped themevaluate other, more general hypotheses about the ecological impact of a naturalcatastrophe. They concluded:

  • Larger organisms were more resistant than small ones to the immediate impactof a moderate disturbance, but the more prolific organisms recovered faster. Onislands that were partly protected, and hence only moderately disturbed, 34percent of lizards were washed away by the storm, compared with 79 percent ofspiders. Yet after a year the numbers of lizards had not changed, while thenumber of spiders had returned to pre-hurricane levels.

  • Local extinction risk was related to population size when the disturbance wasmoderate, but not when it was catastrophic. On partly protected islands nolizard population was wiped out, even though some islands previously had fewerthan five lizards. Nine of 22 spider populations were eliminated. On exposed,hence catastrophically disturbed, islands all lizards and spiders becameextinct, even though some populations previously had 140-190 individuals.

  • After a catastrophic disturbance, the organisms that could disperse the mostreadily recovered the fastest. In one year, spider numbers on the exposedislands reached about one-third of their pre-hurricane levels, but there were nolizards. Spiller said in an interview that the spiders were probably blown ontothe depopulated islands and thrived in the absence of the predatory lizards.

Understanding such effects is more than academically interesting, Spiller said. It could help shape programs for preserving natural communities.

"For instance, if you have an endangered species in a floodplain, these resultsshould be of great concern. Areas that are physically protected may be worth alot more in the conservation scheme than exposed areas," Spiller said. "Thatfactor usually isn't taken into consideration."

Spiller and Losos will return to Great Exuma this October, in the last weeks ofthe 1998 hurricane season, to continue following the recovery of the biota onthe devastated islands.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of California, Davis. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of California, Davis. "Hurricane's Perfect Timing Brings A Scientific Bonanza." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 August 1998. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/08/980804080708.htm>.
University Of California, Davis. (1998, August 4). Hurricane's Perfect Timing Brings A Scientific Bonanza. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/08/980804080708.htm
University Of California, Davis. "Hurricane's Perfect Timing Brings A Scientific Bonanza." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/08/980804080708.htm (accessed July 23, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

New Orleans Plans to Recycle Cigarette Butts

New Orleans Plans to Recycle Cigarette Butts

AP (July 21, 2014) New Orleans is the first U.S. city to participate in a large-scale recycling effort for cigarette butts. The city is rolling out dozens of containers for smokers to use when they discard their butts. (July 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Shark Sightings a Big Catch for Cape Tourism

Shark Sightings a Big Catch for Cape Tourism

AP (July 21, 2014) A rise in shark sightings along the shores of Chatham, Massachusetts is driving a surge of eager vacationers to the beach town looking to catch a glimpse of a great white. (July 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Spectacular Lightning Storm Hits London

Spectacular Lightning Storm Hits London

AFP (July 19, 2014) A spectaCular lightning storm struck the UK overnight Friday. Images of lightning strikes over the Shard and Tower Bridge in central London. Duration: 00:23 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
A Centuries' Old British Tradition Is Far from a Swan Song

A Centuries' Old British Tradition Is Far from a Swan Song

AFP (July 19, 2014) As if it weren't enough that the Queen is the Sovereign of the UK and 15 other Commonwealth realms, she is also the owner of all Britain's unmarked swans. Duration: 02:18 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins