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Tropical Cyclones In Philippines Disrupt Islands' Regular Nutrient Cycles, New Study Finds

Jan 05, 2016 11:09 AM EST
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Tropical cyclones, also known as typhoons, disperse powerful winds that can have a dramatic impact on nutrient cycling in ecosystems. Island nations in the western Pacific seem to be most affected by these massive storms, researchers from the University of Guam report in a new study.  

"Island nations in the western Pacific region are subjected to more tropical cyclones than anywhere else worldwide," Thomas Marler, ecologist with the University of Guam, said in a news release. "And the greatest destructive forces of tropical cyclones occur on coastal zone habitats."

These beachfront areas are the prime location for island property, with amazing views of the ocean and native plants - but living here comes at a high cost.

In the latest study, Marler worked alongside Ulysses Ferreras, a biologist with the Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society. In attempt to understand the destructive forces behind typhoons, researchers focused on several islands in the eastern Visayan region of the Philippines where Typhoon Yolanda - one of the strongest storms ever recorded - first made landfall Nov. 8, 2013. While working out of the Western Pacific Tropical Research Center, researchers examined how the tropical storm influenced chemical cycling among the interacting biological and geological systems on the islands.

"We had conducted a lot of field work in these habitats during the years prior to the tropical cyclone," Marler added, "so we were able to return to those same habitats in attempts to understand the damage."

While each of the islands in the eastern Visayan region have different soil types, they all support a common plant known as Cycas nitida. This species is adorned with extremely glossy leaves and only found in the Philippines, specifically along coastal areas -- a limited distribution that makes them increasingly susceptible to damage from tropical storms.

The recent study revealed several ways in which a tropical cyclone disrupts nutrient flow through an ecosystem. For example, strong winds produced by a tropical cyclone commonly strip plants of their green leaves - a process known as defoliation that leads to sever damage because trees ultimately loose nutrients without their leaves. Additionally, a forest's soil nutrient cycling process is thrown off when leaves do not regularly fall to the ground, researchers say.  

Although typhoons are rather infrequent and quick storms, an ecosystem can feel the effects of these large-scale disturbances for many years. Their findings were recently published in the Journal of Geography & Natural Disasters

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