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4 The Changes in Diversity of Plant Species Caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011

4 The Changes in Diversity of Plant Species Caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011

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Chapter 22

Influences of Large, Infrequent Disturbance

Caused by Tsunami on Coastal Forest


Mizuki Tomita, Yoshihiko Hirabuki, Hiroshi Kanno, and Keitarou Hara

Abstract Physiographic environments, species composition, and population structure of coastal forests in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture, northeastern Japan, were

investigated to clarify types of damage to trees and other impacts to the forests 3

months after the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011. The coast at the

study site was originally protected by a seawall, and a banked canal had been dug

parallel to the coast. Sand dunes, dominated by young P. thunbergii, had developed

seaward of the canal, while the landward side was characterized by back marsh

dominated by mature P. thunbergii and P. densiflora.

A belt transect (540 × 40 m) was set perpendicular to the shoreline and transecting both sand dune and back marsh. In 2006, before the tsunami, elevations along

the sand dune sections of the belt transect varied widely between 1.1 and 4.8 m,

while those in the back marsh, except for the canal bank, measured between 0.5 and

1.2 m. After the tsunami, large decreases in elevation were recorded on the sand

dunes, caused mainly by scouring directly behind the seawall and canal bank. Large

decreases were also measured on the back marsh, due to uprooting of trees and

stripping of soil by the tsunami.

The total number of both live and dead trees over 5 cm in DBH were 1,738 and

1,039 on the sand dune and back marsh, respectively. Healthy living trees of the two

Pinus species were observed mainly on the back marsh, with the proportion of live

trees increasing roughly with distance from shoreline. Various types of damage,

such as leaning (2.0 trees/100 m2), uprooted (1.4), floating (1.0), and stem breakage/

bending (0.5), were observed on the back marsh, but leaning (7.9 trees/100 m2) and

M. Tomita (*) • K. Hara

Tokyo University of Information Sciences, Chiba, Japan

e-mail: tomita@rsch.tuis.ac.jp

Y. Hirabuki

Tohoku Gakuin University, Sendai, Japan

H. Kanno

Tohoku Afforestation and Environmental Protection Co., Ltd., Sendai, Japan

© Springer Japan 2016

J. Urabe, T. Nakashizuka (eds.), Ecological Impacts of Tsunamis on Coastal

Ecosystems, Ecological Research Monographs,

DOI 10.1007/978-4-431-56448-5_22



M. Tomita et al.

stem breakage/bending (6.4) were frequent on the sand dune. Seedlings and saplings

of deciduous broad-leaved trees such as Quercus serrata were observed only on the

back marsh. Those of P. thunbergii were also observed both in the back marsh and

sand dune. These trees and/or other plants recruited after the disturbance may be

taking advantage of new microhabitats, such as mounds and pits created by uprooted

trees, created by the disturbance. Continuous monitoring is needed to clarify

changes of coastal forest ecosystems after the disturbance.

Keywords Biological legacy • Disturbance • Tsunami • Sand dune • Back marsh •

Types of damage • Coarse woody debris • Description



On March 11, 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami

caused extreme damage to coastal forest along Sendai Bay. This sort of ecological

event can be thought of as a “large and infrequent disturbance.” Despite the scale of

the damage, various organisms and spatially heterogeneous habitats remained in the

disturbed sites. Organisms, organically derived structures such as fallen trees, and

organically produced patterns such as spatial distribution of remnant forest patches

that remained from the pre-disturbance system are defined as biological legacies

(Franklin et al. 2000). It is suggested that post-disturbance studies on these biological legacies can provide insights into the best management practices for restoring

natural resources and ecosystems (Lindenmayer et al. 2004; Dale et al. 2005;

Lindenmayer et al. 2010). Despite the importance of this kind of research, learning

opportunities are often lost because of various difficulties involved in rapid research

responses after large and infrequent disturbances (Lindenmayer et al. 2010).

Recovery process of ecosystems after a major disturbance differs according to the

type of disturbance, such as tsunami, hurricane, landslide, and volcanic eruption, as

well as according to pre-disturbance characteristics of the local ecosystems, including species composition and structure of communities. Description of ecosystems

immediately after the large and infrequent disturbance and subsequent long-term

monitoring is thus important to clarify changes after the disturbance.

In this study, to clarify impacts of the tsunami on coastal forest and landforms,

an initial field survey was implemented soon after the 2011 event. Objectives of this

study were (1) to describe the population structure of trees comprising the coastal

forest after the tsunami, (2) to elucidate both extent and forms of damage to trees,

(3) to detect differences in forms of damages between coastal forests established on

sand dunes along the coastline and those on marshlands that have formed in lowlying marshy environments behind the dunes, (4) to examine relationships between

forms of damages and landforms, and (5) to describe number of surviving trees

including seedlings and saplings after the extreme tsunami.

22 Influences of Large, Infrequent Disturbance Caused by Tsunami on Coastal…



Study Site

The study was carried out in a coastal forest in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture,

northeastern Japan. The Sendai Plain has been advancing seaward at a rate of

approximately 1 m/year after the stabilization of the sea levels about 6,000 years

ago (Matsumoto et al. 2011; Udo et al. 2012). Sediment is supplied from the

Nanakitagawa, Natorigawa, and Abukumagawa Rivers, as well as the southern cliff

coasts. The plain is about 10 km wide and is characterized by a low-lying terrain of

0–3 m above sea level. At present the coastal beach ridges (about 3 m above sea

level) form the highest point of the plain (Miyagi et al. 2013). Freshwater back

marshes (0–2 m above sea level) occur sparsely in the low-lying areas behind these

beach ridges.

Before the Great East Japan Earthquake, the coastal forest in Sendai City was

mainly dominated by Pinus thunbergii and P. densiflora. These pines were first

planted along the Teizan canal, a banked canal dug parallel to the coast about 400

years ago, primarily to protect backlands from damage due to high tides and salt

spray (Hara 2014). The coastal forest was separated into two sections by the canal

(Fig. 22.1). The forest on the seaward side was established on sand dunes and

dominated by young P. thunbergii (homogeneous-aged forest about 30 years old),

Fig. 22.1 (a) Location of the study site. Black point indicates the study site. (b) Location of the

belt transect. Background image is an aerial photo obtained in summer of 2012 and shown by false

color. The belt transect is separated into two parts by a canal. The right-side end of the image is the

shoreline. (c) Extended indication of the belt transect. Trees in the S3 class were surveyed in all the

quadrats (10 × 10 m). S2 class trees were surveyed only in the gray colored quadrats. S3 class trees

were surveyed only in the smaller black color quadrats (2 × 2 m)


M. Tomita et al.

while the forest on the landward side was established on back marsh and dominated

by mature P. thunbergii and P. densiflora (heterogeneous-aged forest about 70–110

years old). Some broad-leaved tree species, such as Quercus myrsinifolia, Q. salicina, Q. serrata, and Prunus spp., were also distributed in the landward forest, and

small marshes were also interspersed among the trees. In a study conducted before

the Great East Japan Earthquake, 759 species of vascular plant (40 % of the vascular

plants in Sendai City) were confirmed in the coastal forest in and around the study

site (Sugiyama et al. 2011). An especially high diversity of plants, including endangered and vulnerable species, were observed in the landward forest, where the back

marshes are interspersed with areas in which forest management has been abandoned for the last several decades.

Based on the data obtained by the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake Tsunami Joint Survey

(TTJS) Group (2011), the height of the tsunami reached 9–14 m on a sand dune

about 1.9 km northeast from the study site and 300 m inland from the shoreline. The

height, however, decreased to 4 m at 1 km inland. According to the Geospatial

Information Authority of Japan (2011), after the earthquake land subsidence in the

general area of the study site ranged between 0.2 and 0.5 m. Based on the land cover

classification map from two satellite images (October 2010 and November 2011),

Zhao et al. (2013) estimated that the total area of coastal forest in Sendai City

decreased from 4.2 to 0.5 km2 due to the tsunami. Although large areas of coastal

forest were disturbed and destroyed by the tsunami, small patches remained in narrow comb-like stripes running perpendicular to the shoreline and direction of the

tsunami at the study site and other nearby areas (Tomita et al. 2013; Hara 2014).



To clarify physiographic effects on population structures and types of damage to

trees, a belt transect (540 × 40 m) was set perpendicular to the shoreline, transecting

both sand dune and back marsh at Okada in Sendai City, June 2011 (Tomita et al.

2014). The belt transect was divided into 216 contiguous quadrats (10 × 10 m), 104

quadrats being located in seaward side, and 112 in landward side (Fig. 22.1).

Distance between centroid of each quadrat and shoreline was measured by using

ArcGIS 10.2.2. According to the TTJS Group (2011), height of tsunami was estimated to have reached about 10 m at beginning of the belt transect and 6 m at end

of the belt transect.

In the belt transect, trees were classified into three size classes: S1 (trees less or

equal to 5 cm in DBH and 2 m in height), S2 (trees less or equal to 5 cm in DBH and

over 2 m in height), and S3 (trees over 5 cm in DBH). Species name and DBH for

both live and dead trees in the S3 class were recorded. Major types of damages were

classified as leaning (stem inclined physically with roots still in the ground), stem

breakage/bending (stem broken or bent physically with roots still in the ground),

uprooted (fallen trees with roots out of ground, found at or near their original spot),

and floating (trees uprooted elsewhere and drifted to spot where found) and recorded

for all trees of S3. Species name and height for living trees of the S1 and S2 classes

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