ST. LOUIS, Mo., July 31, 1998 -- A biologist at Washington University in St. Louis and colleagues at the University of California, Davis were literal recipients of a natural windfall in October 1996 during Hurricane Lili.
Through a quirk of fate, the biologists saw one study metamorphose into a completely different one that graphically reveals how natural forces periodically play with an ecosystem's populations and tip the so-called "balance of nature."
Jonathan Losos, Ph.D., associate professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis, and biologists David A. Spiller and Thomas W. Schoener at the University of California, Davis, had just finished censusing lizard and spider populations on 19 tiny islands in the Bahamas when Hurricane Lili hit the area on October 19. The trio had introduced lizards to the islands in 1993 to conduct an experiment, "the effect of predators on island ecosystems." The day after the hurricane blew through the large island of Great Exuma, where they were staying, the biologists quickly took to their boats to re-examine the islands for a suddenly different study, "the effect of natural catastrophe on island organisms." Fate had handed them a marvelously unique chance to record results that previously had only been hypothesized.
The scientists published the results of their study in the July 31, 1998 issue of Science magazine.
Eleven of the islands -- all about one-third the size of an American
football field -- experienced 110-mph winds; eight other islands on the northeast of
Great Exuma also were directly hit by Lili after it had passed over Great Exuma.
Location made a difference in the fate of organisms. Spiders and lizards were
completely wiped out and vegetation greatly damaged on the 11 southwest, or
catastrophically hit, islands, whereas populations of lizards were reduced
approximately by one-third and those of
Contact: Tony Fitzpatrick
Washington University in St. Louis