HURRICANES AFFECT WILDLIFE?
October's Hurricane Matthew demonstrated, from Haiti to North Carolina,
hurricanes can be devastating from a human perspective. They can leave
people reeling from loss of property, pets and even lives. Homes, highways,
entire communities can be destroyed. But how does a hurricane affect
our native wildlife?
answer is simple. Compared to the way people are affected by hurricanes,
the overall impact on wildlife communities is minimal. We measure impacts
differently for most wild animals than we do for ourselves, so we do
not perceive wildlife as suffering the devastating effects from hurricanes
that people do.
and even with pets, we empathize with each individual who suffers. Someone
being rescued from a car floating down a swollen river, a family examining
the remains of their former home or police searching for a missing person
animals, we may hear a few stories of the plight of individual animals,
but for the most part we are concerned with how the species fared overall
in the region. The loss of a single bluebird will go unremembered as
long as plenty are around to occupy bluebird boxes in the spring. A
hurricane will not significantly affect the overall bluebird population
levels as long as healthy birds are already present.
scale, few animals have "personal property" that can be lost
in a hurricane. Raccoons and frogs need only survive the storm because
they do not have permanent homes that can be destroyed. Many birds have
structural assets in the form of nests. But most hurricanes occur in
late summer and fall, a season when relatively few birds occupy nests
in trees that can be blown down.
wildlife, beavers may suffer property loss of dams due to powerful flooding
associated with hurricanes. But in the way that beavers do, they simply
set about repairing the damage as soon as the water level declines,
with little overall effect on their lives.
tortoises, the big terrestrial turtles of the Southeast that make their
homes in deep burrows dug into sandy areas, can have flooding damage
from a hurricane. But their homes become livable again when the water
subsides. Some tortoises simply move to another, drier burrow.
hurricane season is from June through November, but in keeping with
nature not being bound by man-made rules, officially designated hurricanes
have occurred in May and December, in the "off-season." And
close to 90 percent occur from August to October. Residents of Charleston
(Hugo, September 1989), Miami (Andrew, August 1992), New Orleans (Katrina,
August 2005) and New Jersey (Sandy, October 2012) will never forget
their hurricane experience.
the appearance of hurricanes on a recurring basis, the ancestors of
all native species evolved to deal with them. Native plants and wild
animals use a variety of strategies to weather a storm.
with their type B personalities will bend like fishing poles, becoming
parallel to the ground against awesome winds. Oak trees rely on brute
strength that works for moderately high winds, but against category
4 or 5 hurricanes their roots are sometimes ripped from the ground.
Pine trees surrender to the winds with broken trunks.
the losses, replacements for lost trees will eventually appear naturally.
Shorebirds and coastal songbirds hunker down beneath bushes and other
ground cover. The most common bird injuries reported following high
winds are generally to hawks and owls. A few individual birds of all
sorts no doubt perish, but long-term damage to native bird populations
do hurricanes affect our native wildlife? The answer is they do not
significantly affect the long-term existence of native wildlife in any
sense of long-term sustainability. All species will survive. Some will
even thrive because of water replenishment of wetlands or the opening
of tree canopies. People are the only ones who have to be concerned
about hurricanes - and no one will forget the ones they've lived through.
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