Population Dynmanics of Alabama Beach Mice (Peromyscus Polionotus Ammobates) Following Hurricane Opal

By Swilling, William R., Jr.; Wooten, Michael C. et al. | The American Midland Naturalist, October 1998 | Go to article overview

Population Dynmanics of Alabama Beach Mice (Peromyscus Polionotus Ammobates) Following Hurricane Opal


Swilling, William R., Jr., Wooten, Michael C., Holler, Nicholas R., Lynn, William J., The American Midland Naturalist


WILLIAM R. SWILLING, JR-l, MICHAEL C. WOOTENt, NICHOLAS R. HOLLER"'2 AND WILLIAM J. LYNN'

ABSTRACT.-On 4 October 1995, Hurricane Opal made landfall to the E of one of our long-term study sites at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge in Baldwin County, Alabama. The primary dunes were destroyed and seawater covered much of the site for several days after the storm. This natural event provided a unique opportunity to study changes in the dynamics of a population of Alabama beach mice (Peromyscus polionotus ammobates) following a catastrophic alteration to a primary component of their habitat mosaic. Mouse numbers at their posthurricane peak were 30% lower than those observed prehurricane. However, the probability of mice surviving between the bimonthly trapping period which included the hurricane was not significantly different from the average between period estimates. Overall, posthurricane survival was not significantly lower than prehurricane values. However, we observed a potential delayed effect in the form of unusually low survival during the summer of 1996 which coincided with a significant reduction in body mass. Approximately 47% of recaptures on the scrub/transition habitat in December 1995 were of mice originally marked in the beach habitat. This trend continued through April 1996 suggesting that the scrub/ transition areas may provide a refuge after tropical storms. While Hurricane Opal was destructive, the immediate demographic changes were not significantly different from those driven by annual climatic cycles. The hurricane may have compromised the ability of the population to survive the difficult summer season.

INTRODUCTION

Hurricanes are dramatic, often destructive, stochastic events which greatly influence the ecological dynamics of tropical and neotropical regions world-wide. Due to the infrequent nature of hurricanes, there is a lack of published data available to assess the short- or longterm impacts of hurricanes (Waide, 1991) across a wide range of vertebrate taxa. While the flora and fauna of coastal ecosystems may have evolved to withstand such events, the effects of hurricanes may be exacerbated by anthropogenic factors, namely development which has increased along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts an estimated 300% from 1945 to 1975 (see review, Noss et al., 1995).

Throughout the last half-century, beach mice (Peromyscus polionotus ssp.) have suffered dramatic reduction of their historic ranges along the Gulf Coast of Alabama, the Florida panhandle, and the Atlantic coast of Florida (Bowen, 1968). Currently, one subspecies is extinct, four subspecies are listed as federally endangered, one as threatened, one is proposed for listing, and one is not listed. The primary criteria for listing these taxa were habitat loss from coastal development and the susceptibility of small, fragmented populations to tropical storms (Arnett, 1984).

Holler (1992) described optimal beach mouse habitat as primary and secondary dunefields vegetated by sea oats ( Uniola paniculata), beach grass (Panicum amarum) and bluestem (Andropogon maritimus). Beach mice along the Gulf Coast are found in highest densities in the primary dunes (Blair, 1951; Holliman, 1983; Rave and Holler, 1992) where high vegetation density and abundant sea oats provide cover and food, but they also occupy the more stable secondary dune habitat zone, where vegetation density is lower and plant diversity is higher. Beach mice also occur in a third coastal habitat, the scrub/transition zone (Holliman, 1983; Holler and Rave, 1991). The scrub/transition habitat zone is found landward of the primary and secondary dunes and is characterized by large stable dunes covered with sand live oak (Quercus geminata), saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) and rosemary (Ceranola ericoides). The importance of the scrub habitat for beach mice is poorly understood, but we believe that this zone may serve as a refugium following severe environmental events. …

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