By Bill Willis and Bill Steinmetz
November 27, 2017
Thankfully, the 2017 hurricane season is over. Hurricanes this year alone have taken an extreme toll on human life and property. You only have to see pictures of the Gulf Coast, Florida, or Puerto Rica to get a sense of the devastation these areas have suffered. However, there can also be direct and indirect impacts on animals, plants, and the natural world.
Several years ago, USA Today featured the effects that several of the hurricanes have had on North American wildlife. Researchers have grouped the effects of hurricanes on wildlife into seven major areas. Hurricane affects come from both wind and water impacts.
Even if the plant or animal can escape the direct effect of wind and water on its home range, the organism still has to cope with changes in habitat or location. Highly visible species like migratory birds, deer, rabbits, squirrels, and turkeys may be forced well inland or carried out to sea.
Although heavy habitat losses may occur initially, most populations that live in the storm zone will survive and reestablish the area eventually. While native species will be part of that recovery, exotics and invasives may also spread. Changing habitats may also lead to shifting ecosystems; a thinned tree canopy may promote herbaceous growth on the forest floor, which could lead to introduction of new animals more suited to the new growth on the forest floor.