El Yunque National Forest
El Yunque National Forest (Photo credit: Geoff Gallice / Wikimedia)

Almost two years ago, Hurricane Maria devastated the lush tree canopy of Puerto Rico’s El Yunque National Forest.

Uriarte: “The majority of the trees were damaged. Some trees that have very dense wood, that is hard wood, that is difficult to break, we saw them just completely broken.”

María Uriarte is a professor at Columbia University. She has been monitoring trees in El Yunque for more than a decade. She says that since the hurricane, the forest there has already started to regrow.

But she says if strong storms become more common with climate change, large, slow-growing tree species may be killed before they grow to their full potential.

Uriarte: “Say that, every 20 years or so, we get a storm of the intensity of Maria, and in those conditions, the big trees will not have time to grow to a large size.”

Large trees store lots of carbon in their roots, branches, and leaves. So a forest with fewer big trees might hold less carbon over time, which could make it harder to slow climate change.

Through her ongoing research, Uriarte hopes to learn more about how increasingly severe weather affects tropical forests – and how changing forests could, in turn, affect the climate.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.

Topics: Species & Ecosystems, Weather Extremes