Fragmentation increases wind disturbance impacts on forest structure and carbon stocks in a western Amazonian landscape

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Tropical second-growth forests could help mitigate climate change, but the degree to which their carbon potential is achieved will depend on exposure to disturbance. Wind disturbance is common in tropical forests, shaping structure, composition, and function, and influencing successional trajectories. However, little is known about the impacts of extreme winds on second-growth forests in fragmented landscapes, though these ecosystems are often located in mosaics of forest, pasture, cropland, and other land cover types. Indirect evidence suggests that fragmentation increases risk of wind damage in tropical forests, but no studies have found such impacts following severe storms. In this study, we ask whether fragmentation and forest type (old vs. second growth) were associated with variation in wind damage after a severe convective storm in a fragmented production landscape in western Amazonia. We applied linear spectral unmixing to Landsat 8 imagery from before and after the storm, and combined it with field observations of damage to map wind effects on forest structure and biomass. We also used Landsat 8 imagery to map land cover with the goals of identifying old- and second-growth forest and characterizing fragmentation. We used these data to assess variation in wind disturbance across 95,596 hectares of forest, distributed over 6,110 patches. We find that fragmentation is significantly associated with wind damage, with damage severity higher at forest edges and in edgier, more isolated patches. Damage was also more severe in old-growth than in second-growth forests, but this effect was weaker than that of fragmentation. These results illustrate the importance of considering landscape context in planning tropical forest restoration and natural regeneration projects. Assessments of long-term carbon sequestration potential need to consider spatial variation in disturbance exposure. Where risk of extreme winds is high, minimizing fragmentation and isolation could increase carbon sequestration potential.

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