The forests of the Luquillo Experimental Forest Long-Term Ecological Research site are subject to low-intensity, widespread disturbance that establishes levels of background mortality that contrast with periodic catastrophic mortality resulting from hurricanes and landslides. Although catastrophic mortality is more dramatic, background mortality is still more important in determining population turnover. However, catastrophic mortality may still be an important agent in determining ecosystem structure. Catastrophic disturbances affect forest function in many ways besides mortality, some of which are only apparent in the context of long-term studies. Since most ecosystems are subject to some form of catastrophic disturbance, general principles can be derived from comparative studies of disturbance in different systems.