After the Catastrophe

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Science  28 Oct 2005:
Vol. 310, Issue 5748, pp. 591
DOI: 10.1126/science.310.5748.591a

The study of recolonization and succession after catastrophic disturbance can offer insights into the rules governing the assembly of ecological communities and how species interact during colonization and invasion, as well as the speed and trajectory of recovery. Catastrophes—and responses thereto—come in many forms.

Planes et al. followed the recovery of coral reef fish assemblages after a thoroughly unnatural catastrophe: the underground nuclear tests carried out at Mururoa atoll in the Pacific between 1976 and 1995. Typically, the pressure wave from each test caused the instant death of all fish within 2000 m of the test site, while leaving the reef structure unchanged. Even so, the fish diversity and abundance that are characteristic of undamaged reef were restored within 1 to 5 years by immigration and recruitment from neighboring areas, suggesting that reef structure is a vital factor in community assembly. In contrast, Pitman et al. document a very slow recovery after a catastrophic flood that probably took place in an Ecuadorian tropical rain forest five centuries ago; tree species number has yet to recover to half that of neighboring unaffected areas, and there is a greater abundance of light-demanding early-successional species. — AMS

Ecology 86, 2578 (2005); J. Trop. Ecol. 21, 559 (2005).

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