Establishing hurricane network in the Greater Caribbean Region

Network News Spring 2009, Vol. 22 No. 1

A joint US-LTER/Mex-LTER meeting

In January, 2009, the Ecosistemas Costeros de la Peninsula de Yucatan (ECOPEY) Mex-Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) site and both the US LTER and RED MEX LTER Network offices hosted a workshop in Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico to address the ecological role of hurricanes. With 22 scientists attending from the US and the Mexican LTER programs, and other research institutions, the workshop discussed mechanisms for developing a coordinated network of sites to address hurricane effects and responses on a variety of coastal and terrestrial ecosystems in the wider Caribbean region.

As part of the discussions researchers analyzed comparative results from sites in the Caribbean, Mexico, and the southern U.S., and addressed the proposition that coordination of future measurements and experiments across the Greater Caribbean Basin would result in significant advances of our understanding of systems structured by hurricanes and other kinds of disturbance.

Having obtained supplemental funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to hold the workshop, organizers were hopeful that it would be an excellent initiative to not only build close interactions between the US and Mexico LTER programs, but also to engage other international LTER sites throughout Latin America. Since 1989, the relative frequency of hurricanes in the Greater Caribbean Basin has resulted in numerous studies on hurricane disturbance and response in forested ecosystems (NSB 2007; Figure 1). These studies have produced significant amounts of site-specific data on the effects of hurricanes with different characteristics and on the responses of a wide range of ecosystem components, including terrestrial and aquatic animal and plant populations, carbon flux and storage, nutrient cycling, forest structure, and microclimate (Lugo 1997). Some studies have used simulation models to understand the responses of forested systems to disturbance. However, the studies have not been coordinated and comparisons of patterns are infrequent.

The participants in the Mérida meeting represented a cross section of researchers on disturbance ecology in the Greater Caribbean Basin (including hurricane-prone areas of western Mexico for comparison). Although funding constrained the size of this meeting, it was widely recognized that there are at least an equal number of other investigators whose research merits inclusion in future planning. Therefore, there is strong potential to develop an extensive network of research sites and investigators focusing on the effect of hurricanes on natural ecosystems. Such a network would complement existing research networks, such as the US and Mexican LTER programs, as well as developing networks like NEON (National Ecological Observatory Network) and the conceptual framework outlined in Rivera-Monroy et al. (2004).

The Mérida workshop recognized three pre-requisites for a functional network:

  1. Identifying potential investigators and sites that could contribute to a network
  2. Evaluating potential sources of long-term funding and planning to tap those funding sources
  3. Reaching a consensus on an underlying scientific theme that would animate the participants to commit to a research partnership.

As products of this first meeting the participants initiated two documents that outline

  1. A conceptual framework for integrating hurricane science across the Caribbean region through a formal research network
  2. A manuscript that reviews the status, distribution, and needs for ecological research on tropical storm disturbance in the Caribbean.

In addition, the participants settled on a plan of action to seek future funding to develop a coordinated network of investigators and to organize a second meeting during the annual 2009 Ecological Society of America meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Literature Cited

Lugo, A.E., ed. 1997. Acta Científica 11(1-3). San Juan, Puerto Rico: Asociación de Maestros de Ciencia de Puerto Rico: 102 p.

National Science Board. 2007. HURRICANE WARNING: The Critical Need for a National Hurricane Research Initiative. NSB-06-115. National Science Foundation, Washington, DC.

Rivera-Monroy, V. H et al. 2004. A conceptual framework to develop long-term ecological research and management objectives in the wider Caribbean region. BioScience 54:843-856.

By Victor H. Rivera-Monroy, Robert B. Waide, Jorge Herrera-Silveira, Manuel Maass.