Production and Decomposition Rates of a Coastal Plain Forest Following the Impact of Hurrican Hugo
Recovery of a coastal plain mixed hardwood-pine forest following the impact of Hurricane Hugo in 1989 was monitored for four years, 1991-1995. Eight 400 m2 plots were set in each of two treatment areas-an Unsalvaged and a Salvaged site. Wind-downed trees were kept on the site in the Unsalvaged Site and removed in the Salvaged Site. It was hypothesized that leaving hurricane generated debris in place would lead to higher production and decomposition rates, and therefore greater nutrient retention, over decade-long terms.
No significant differences in production or decomposition rates were foundasa result of treatments; and so production and decomposition data from the two treatments were subsequently combined into a single data set to provide baseline estimations of these parameters for possible future permanently plotted studies. Net primary production of herbs was 94.5 g m-2 yr-1. Litter mass production was 664.3 g m-2 yr-1.
Several parameters, other than production and decomposition, were measured and were also not `significantly different between Salvaged .and Unsalvaged treatments. The relatively short duration of the study may have influenced the results, but the data are suggestive of possible contrasting long-term trends with respect to the treatments. This additional data indicated that: 1) the mean root : shoot ratio of volunteer pine seedlings in the Salvaged site was three times that of the Unsalvaged Site; 2) estimated soil organic matter was 144 times greater in the Unsalvaged Site compared to the Salvaged Site; 3) the mean percentage of wood ash of newly germinated pine seedlings was 1% times greater in the Unsalvaged Site compared to the Salvaged Site; and 4) mean post-Hugo radial increase of surviving loblolly pine trees on both plots was 0.21 cm yr-1 compared to 0.18 cm yr-1 pre-Hugo growth.
These short-term data sets, although not statistically different between treatments, at least suggest that long-term rates of recovery of forests following hurricane impacts might be greater if the forests are left undisturbed. Long term studies are needed to increase data, and discover if, over successional--decades long-time frames, coastal plain forests respond differently with hurricane detrital material removed compared to being left in place. Such data have implications with respect to management of coastal forests following hurricane and even human-generated impacts.