Assessment of forest fuel loadings in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands
Quantification of the downed woody materials that comprise forest fuels has gained importance in Caribbean forest ecosystems due to the increasing incidence and severity of wildfires on island ecosystems. Because large-scale assessments of forest fuels have rarely been conducted for these ecosystems, forest fuels were assessed at 121 U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service inventory plots on Puerto Rico, Vieques, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Results indicated that fuel loadings averaged 24.05 Mg ha–1 in 2004–2006. Forest litter decreased from wetter to drier forest life zones. These island forests showed a paucity of coarse wood fuels (CWD) (2.91 Mg ha–1) and relatively greater quantities of smaller-sized fine woody fuels (FWD) (10.18 mg ha-1 for FWD and 1082. mg ha–1 for duff/litter) when compared to continental tropical forests. Between 2001 and 2006, DWD fuel loads decreased, while fine fuels and litter increased, such that total fuel loads remained constant on a subset of plots on Puerto Rico. This trend indicates that continued decomposition of CWD deposited by the last severe hurricane is balanced by increasing inputs of FWD from recovering and maturing secondary forests. Forest disturbance cycles and successional developments must be taken into account by agencies charged with fire protection and risk assessment.