Assessing Impacts of Hurricane Michael on longleaf pine in Florida

Authors: Nicole Zampieri*, Department of Geography, Florida State University, Stephanie Pau, Department of Geography, Florida State University, Ryan Slapikas, Department of Geography, Florida State University, Shiqian Wang, Geography, Florida State University
Topics: Biogeography, Natural Resources, Land Use and Land Cover Change
Keywords: Pinus palustris, savanna, disturbance, remote sensing, forestry, biogeography
Session Type: Poster
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Lincoln 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: Download


The longleaf pine ecosystem, found throughout the North American Coastal Plain, is a critically endangered global biodiversity hotspot. The Florida panhandle contains approximately 500,000-1,000,000 hectares of longleaf pine habitat. Hurricane Michael devastated the Florida panhandle as a strong Category 4 storm on October 10th, 2018. In this study, we assess the impacts of hurricane force winds and rain at four sites in the path of the storm by determining changes in tree density, canopy structure, and normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) using a Before-After-Impact-Control (BACI) design. Sites were surveyed for density and structure before the storm and resurveyed within 3 months post-hurricane. Post-hurricane field surveys included a description of the type of damage to trees (minor, partially uprooted, uprooted, snapped, or percent damage to crown). The results of this study show that a hurricane of this strength has the potential to catastrophically decimate healthy tracts of longleaf pine habitat in the direct path of the eye. The most severely impacted site saw a decrease of 87.3% in tree density. Sites further away from the eye, or those experiencing less strong storms, may benefit from the minor damage, which opens up the canopy and allows for patch recruitment to occur. Coastal plain species may be adapted to periodic disturbances in the form of hurricanes, but the potential for hurricanes of increasing strength to occur more frequently due to climate change pose a threat to this declining and vulnerable system.

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