The reappearance of long-forgotten habitats and the resurgence of species unseen for years may not be among the expected effects of a natural disaster. Yet that’s exactly what researchers have found on the sandy beaches of south central Chile, after an 8.8-magnitude earthquake and devastating tsunami in 2010. Their study also revealed a preview of the problems wrought by sea level rise — a major symptom of climate change.
In a scientific first, researchers from Universidad Austral de Chile and UC Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute (MSI) were able to document the before-and-after ecological impacts of such cataclysmic occurrences. A new paper appearing in the journal PLoS ONE elucidates the surprising results of their collaborative study, pointing to the potential effects of natural disasters on sandy beaches worldwide.
“So often you think of earthquakes as causing total devastation, and adding a tsunami on top of that is a major catastrophe for coastal ecosystems. As expected, we saw high mortality of intertidal life on beaches and rocky shores, but the ecological recovery at some of our sandy beach sites was remarkable,” said Jenifer Dugan, an associate research biologist at MSI. ” Dune plants are coming back in places there haven’t been plants, as far as we know, for a very long time. The earthquake created sandy beach habitat where it had been lost. This is not the initial ecological response you might expect from a major earthquake and tsunami.”