Home > Chile, ecology, natural disasters, PLoS ONE > Ecological Implications of Extreme Events: Footprints of the 2010 Earthquake along the Chilean Coast

Ecological Implications of Extreme Events: Footprints of the 2010 Earthquake along the Chilean Coast

May 14, 2012
Source:  PLoS ONE

Deciphering ecological effects of major catastrophic events such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, storms and fires, requires rapid interdisciplinary efforts often hampered by a lack of pre-event data. Using results of intertidal surveys conducted shortly before and immediately after Chile’s 2010 Mw 8.8 earthquake along the entire rupture zone (ca. 34–38°S), we provide the first quantification of earthquake and tsunami effects on sandy beach ecosystems. Our study incorporated anthropogenic coastal development as a key design factor. Ecological responses of beach ecosystems were strongly affected by the magnitude of land-level change. Subsidence along the northern rupture segment combined with tsunami-associated disturbance and drowned beaches. In contrast, along the co-seismically uplifted southern rupture, beaches widened and flattened increasing habitat availability. Post-event changes in abundance and distribution of mobile intertidal invertebrates were not uniform, varying with land-level change, tsunami height and coastal development. On beaches where subsidence occurred, intertidal zones and their associated species disappeared. On some beaches, uplift of rocky sub-tidal substrate eliminated low intertidal sand beach habitat for ecologically important species. On others, unexpected interactions of uplift with man-made coastal armouring included restoration of upper and mid-intertidal habitat seaward of armouring followed by rapid colonization of mobile crustaceans typical of these zones formerly excluded by constraints imposed by the armouring structures. Responses of coastal ecosystems to major earthquakes appear to vary strongly with land-level change, the mobility of the biota and shore type. Our results show that interactions of extreme events with human-altered shorelines can produce surprising ecological outcomes, and suggest these complex responses to landscape alteration can leave lasting footprints in coastal ecosystems.

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