A partnership of two researchers at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette is working within an international team of scientists to study the ecological impacts of previous hurricanes to inform how coastal ecosystems may best prepare for and respond to future storms, according to a news release from the University.
The international research team of scientists has recently published their study, “A General Pattern of Trade-Offs Between Ecosystem Resistance and Resilience to Tropical Cyclones,” in Science Advances, an academic journal that is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The researchers’ findings in the study have reportedly provided insight into how our coastal ecosystems might respond to future storms, to which as anyone in the Gulf Coast region can attest, are always around the corner.
The study was co-authored by UL Lafayette’s Dr. Beth Stauffer, an associate professor of Biology, and Dr. Kelly Robinson, an assistant professor of Biology. Dr. Christopher Patrick of William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science led the research team for the study, whose whole team was made up of 23 scientists from 11 states, Taiwan, and Puerto Rico. The team’s study is a part of the National Science Foundation’s Hurricane Ecosystem Response Synthesis (HERS), and Dr. Stauffer is a co-principal investigator for the research coordination network.
This collaborative research coordination network aims to bring together research on how an ecosystem’s long-term or more recent environmental history might influence its response to subsequent storms. In addition to this, the network will also collaborate on researching how species traits such as reproductive potential, dispersal mode and distance, and physiological tolerance might explain certain patterns of resistance and resilience.
In their research, the team used both pre-storm monitoring surveys and post-storm monitoring surveys to examine the resilience and resistance of coastal ecosystems across 26 different storms. The 26 total storms used for the research team’s data were selected among those that had made landfall in the Northern Hemisphere of Earth between the years 1985 and 2018. The researchers set out to study the effects of such a wide array of storms in order to maximize the scope of their data.
When speaking on the widening of the research’s scope in the study, UL Lafayette’s Dr. Beth Stauffer said, “most hurricane-related research is done on a single-storm, single-system basis. So studies like this one are especially powerful in bringing together the results from that diverse research and finding more general rules for how ecosystems respond to hurricanes.”
In working on their study, researchers were able to document post-storm changes related to the distribution and abundance of living things such as oysters, fishes, mangrove plants, and microbes. Outside of these living things, researchers also documented the observed changes made to various ecosystems’ biochemistry such as salinity levels, nitrogen levels, and hydrography such as depth and shoreline position.
Additionally, the researchers were able to analyze, document, and gauge storm characteristics and impacts based on critical factors like maximum wind speed and rainfall rate. They were also able to consider four types of ecosystems in total: freshwater, saltwater, terrestrial, and wetland ecosystems.
In speaking on the benefits of analyzing multiple ecosystems, ULL’s Dr. Kelly Robinson said, “cross-ecosystem analyses help us understand the resilience and vulnerability of animals and plants that ultimately support recreational and commercial activities along our coasts. This study provides an important reference point against which we can measure the impacts on coastal ecosystems from future hurricanes, which are predicted to strengthen as oceans warm due to climate change.”
When it comes to understanding hurricanes in an effort to not only anticipate their arrival but to prepare on how to respond to them after they pass, the regional expertise of two researchers from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette cannot be underestimated nor undervalued.
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