Dispatch From Puerto Rico: Entomological Research Faces Rebuilding—and Opportunity—After Hurricane Maria
By Timothy D. Schowalter, Ph.D.
In an article in the Fall 2017 issue of American Entomologist, “Long-term Entomological Research on Canopy Arthropods in a Tropical Rainforest in Puerto Rico,” I described arthropod responses to multiple hurricane and drought disturbances at the Luquillo Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network site (a U.S. Forest Service and University of Puerto Rico facility) over a 20-year period following Hurricane Hugo in 1989—at that time the most severe hurricane to hit Puerto Rico since 1928.
Post-Hugo research demonstrated that species composition and ecosystem structure reflect the history (or legacy) of disturbances that each shape the community and ecosystem in different ways. Furthermore, the effects of Hurricane Hugo were still significant after 20 years.
Now, Hurricane Maria has become the most severe disturbance to Puerto Rico since 1928, leaving the tropical forest canopy entirely open and damaging much of the research infrastructure of site. (Click the pictures below to see before and after depictions.)
Although this event has been catastrophic for the forest ecosystem, as well as for human communities, in Puerto Rico, this event offers a unique opportunity to evaluate forest recovery from such a severe event. Given the history of research at this site up to the time of Maria’s landfall, we will be able to demonstrate both the effects of the hurricane and forest recovery, which we expect to occur relatively quickly.
Research infrastructure is being repaired and sampling resumed to monitor recovery. Results are likely to indicate a new trajectory in forest development as a result of this event.
Timothy D. Schowalter, Ph.D., is a professor in the department of entomology at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org