Abstract: Despite low plant diversity and structural simplicity, mangroves offer various ecosystem services to local human communities, including sheltering coastal social-ecological systems from high-energy storm damage. The expected increasing intensity of hurricanes due to climate change raises questions concerning the capacity of mangroves to resist and recover from such disturbances. Herein, this study contributes to a better understanding of (1) the relation between storm intensity and damage to mangrove vegetation, (2) the contributions of species-specific as well as stand-specific components of mangrove vegetation to ecosystem resistance, and (3) the recovery of pre-hurricane forest structure through time. The first two issues have been addressed using a stand-level approach implemented at two east Caribbean mangrove sites in response to three storm events. The third was addressed through a 23-yr survey of forest recovery following the passage of a high-energy storm across one of the two study sites. Generally, hurricane damage was primarily controlled by wind velocity, followed by the hydro-geomorphic context of mangrove forests and species-specific composition, respectively. The relationship between damage to trees and wind velocity evidenced a sigmoidal trend, with a maximum slope at a wind velocity averaging 130 and 180 km/h for higher vs. lower canopy stands, respectively. The red mangrove, Rhizophora mangle, was significantly less resistant to hurricane damage than was the black mangrove, Avicennia germinans. Unlike the fringe and scrub stands, inner, tall-canopy stands fully recovered by the end of the study (23 yr). These stands were more resilient because of their growth performances. Finally, the time for east Caribbean mangroves to recover from high-energy storms seems to fall within the range of the average return time of such disturbances. This may prevent such ecosystems from ever reaching a steady state.
Keywords: Caribbean; forest recovery; high-energy storms; mangrove; resilience; resistance; Special Feature: High-Energy Storms