Trees grow more efficient leaves to compensate for hurricane damage | 12/18/2018 | Staff
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Some tree species heal from the ravages of hurricane damage by growing replacement leaves optimized for greater efficiency, according to a Clemson University field study presented at the British Ecological Society's annual conference.

This new, optimized growth is an apparent attempt to fight back when hurricane winds rip away limbs and leaves.

Hurricane - Maria - Puerto - Rico - Year

When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico last year, ecologists at Clemson's Belle W. Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science in Georgetown, South Carolina, took the opportunity to study how hurricanes affect tropical dry forests in the Caribbean. The worst natural disaster on record to affect the U.S. territory, the hurricane stripped numerous trees bare of their leaves and disrupted their ability to absorb the light needed for growth and survival.

Clemson researchers sought to determine whether the trees were capable of compensating for the significant damage by increasing resource acquisition in newly produced leaves. At Tuesday's conference, which brought together 1,200 ecologists from more than 40 countries to discuss the latest research, doctoral student Tristan Allerton presented findings from the year-long field study.

Study - Guánica - State - Forest - Puerto

"Our study took us to the Guánica State Forest in southwest Puerto Rico, which comprises one of the best parcels of native dry forest in the Caribbean," said Allerton. "Rainfall here is extremely erratic, with huge variability within and between years. The forest also sits on limestone from an ancient coral reef, which is extremely porous, meaning trees have little time to capture water as it travels through the underlying rock. As a result, organisms are uniquely adapted to cope with unpredictable water availability."

The researchers examined the leaves of the 13 most dominant tree species one, eight and 12 months after Hurricane Maria struck, comparing them with leaves that were collected before the hurricane. They analyzed whether the immediate changes observed in leaves were temporary or maintained...
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