When bare hillsides exploded into green after Hurricane Irma, it was a welcome inspiration. Today, those same hills are looking very different. As the island shifts into the dry season, the vibrant greens are fading. Will it put nature’s recovery on hold?
For anyone still living under a tarp, the dry season surely comes as a relief. It’s also a natural cycle that happens each year. Plants and birds and lizards and bugs that evolved here are adapted to it.
While our native species will survive the dry season, it may slow the recovery for some. All those green leaves that sprouted during the wet season feed life on the island. During the dry season, many plants lose their leaves to retain water.
Fast growing tan-tan, that covers many hills here, is nothing but brown branches and seed pods right now. Grasses that were quick to grow are yellow and dry, conserving their water in their roots. Other trees and plants fare better, especially native ones that are adapted to the dry season.
When plants retreat in the dry season, the rest of nature changes, too. Fewer leaves mean fewer insects. Fewer insects mean less food for insect-eating birds, bats and lizards. Less food often means fewer babies.
Because it doesn’t get cold here, many animals can breed throughout the year. And many of them do. But because there is less food during the dry season, most reproduce less during this time. In a normal year, animals will build up their population during the wet season and it will decline during the dry season. Overall, the population remains stable.
This year, the dry season arrives when many species are still recovering from the hurricane. Chances are, it will pause their recovery as many species focus on survival rather than reproduction. For nature’s sake, we should hope this year’s dry season isn’t too dry or too long. A drought like the one we experienced a few years ago could be a big problem.