Fire Storm: Field Researchers and Their Subjects Endure Nature's Tempestuous Power [Slide Show]
A group of spider monkeys and their scientist observers confront extreme weather and its fiery aftermath in a Central American rainforest
Credits: Sarah Hewitt
A TALE OF STORM AND FIRE Naturalists can rarely avail themselves of data gathered before and after a natural disaster in an animal habitat under study. The resiliency of spider monkeys and other forest inhabitants remains in question.
NEW SPECIES INVASION In the months after the fire an opportunistic plant species (
Ipomoea sepacuitensis), uncommon in the region, took advantage of the damaged areas and quickly took root and spread, influencing the dynamics of the ecosystem. Julie Boyd
STILL HOME? A spider monkey gazed out over the charred remains of the forest in the valley below. For the monkeys, the fires meant the further destruction of their arboreal home, sleeping sites, food sources and travel routes.
REDUCED TO ASH A thick layer of ash covered the forest floor amidst the remains of trees.
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A CHARRED FOREST Aerial shot of the belly button two weeks after the fire began. (Thanks to LightHawk for the flight.)
UP IN FLAMES Flames consumed huge sections of the forest leaving ash and blackened trees where lush vegetation once thrived.
A REAL FIREWALL The risk of forest fires is high in the dry season following a hurricane. Flames swept across the savanna. Hurricane-felled trees in the forest allowed the fire to spread into the hills.
DAMAGED, BUT STILL STANDING Richard caused significant damage: Countless trees shorn of leaves or branches remained uprooted. The debris on the forest floor provided fuel for fire in the following dry season.
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LEGACY OF RICHARD Three weeks after Hurricane Richard in October 2010, areas surrounding the center of the belly button had sustained extensive damage to the forest canopy.
PRISTINE FOREST CANOPY The forest area dubbed the "belly button" by the researchers looked untouched during an early aerial jaunt in 2008. (Thanks to LightHawk for the flight.)
DELICIOUS COPAL FRUIT Mary Pavelka and her team have watched spider monkeys pursue
Protium copal, a favorite fruit, for four years. Sarah Hewitt
RUNAWAY CREEK'S LUSH RAINFOREST Runaway Creek Nature Reserve lies south of Belize City, Belize. Flat, pine savanna surrounds steep karst limestone hills, covered in low broadleaf, semi-deciduous tropical forest.
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