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Title: Demographic trade-offs predict tropical forest dynamics
Understanding tropical forest dynamics and planning for their sustainable management require efficient, yet accurate, predictions of the joint dynamics of hundreds of tree species. With increasing information on tropical tree life histories, our predictive understanding is no longer limited by species data but by the ability of existing models to make use of it. Using a demographic forest model, we show that the basal area and compositional changes during forest succession in a neotropical forest can be accurately predicted by representing tropical tree diversity (hundreds of species) with only five functional groups spanning two essential trade-offs—the growth-survival and stature-recruitment trade-offs. This data-driven modeling framework substantially improves our ability to predict consequences of anthropogenic impacts on tropical forests.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1939559
NSF-PAR ID:
10182967
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Science
Volume:
368
Issue:
6487
ISSN:
0036-8075
Page Range / eLocation ID:
165 to 168
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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    Understanding the mechanisms that promote the coexistence of hundreds of species over small areas in tropical forest remains a challenge. Many tropical tree species are presumed to be functionally equivalent shade tolerant species but exist on a continuum of performance trade‐offs between survival in shade and the ability to quickly grow in sunlight. These trade‐offs can promote coexistence by reducing fitness differences.

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    Seedlings face different challenges recruiting on the forest floor and may exhibit different traits and/or performance trade‐offs than older individuals face in the eventual adult niche. Seed mass is the typical proxy for seedling success, but species also differ in cotyledon strategy (reserve vs. photosynthetic) or other leaf, stem and root traits. These can cause species with the same average seed mass to have divergent performance in the same habitat.

    We combined long‐term studies of seedling dynamics with functional trait data collected at a standard life‐history stage in three diverse neotropical forests to ask whether variation in coordinated suites of traits predicts variation among species in demographic performance.

    Across hundreds of species in Ecuador, Panama and Puerto Rico, we found seedlings displayed correlated suites of leaf, stem, and root traits, which strongly correlated with seed mass and cotyledon strategy. Variation among species in seedling functional traits, seed mass, and cotyledon strategy were strong predictors of trade‐offs in seedling growth and survival. These results underscore the importance of matching the ontogenetic stage of the trait measurement to the stage of demographic dynamics.

    Our findings highlight the importance of cotyledon strategy in addition to seed mass as a key component of seed and seedling biology in tropical forests because of the contribution of carbon reserves in storage cotyledons to reducing mortality rates and explaining the growth‐survival trade‐off among species.

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  2. Abstract Background and Aims

    Understanding shifts in the demographic and functional composition of forests after major natural disturbances has become increasingly relevant given the accelerating rates of climate change and elevated frequency of natural disturbances. Although plant demographic strategies are often described across a slow–fast continuum, severe and frequent disturbance events influencing demographic processes may alter the demographic trade-offs and the functional composition of forests. We examined demographic trade-offs and the shifts in functional traits in a hurricane-disturbed forest using long-term data from the Luquillo Forest Dynamics Plot (LFPD) in Puerto Rico.

    Methods

    We analysed information on growth, survival, seed rain and seedling recruitment for 30 woody species in the LFDP. In addition, we compiled data on leaf, seed and wood functional traits that capture the main ecological strategies for plants. We used this information to identify the main axes of demographic variation for this forest community and evaluate shifts in community-weighted means for traits from 2000 to 2016.

    Key Results

    The previously identified growth–survival trade-off was not observed. Instead, we identified a fecundity–growth trade-off and an axis representing seedling-to-adult survival. Both axes formed dimensions independent of resprouting ability. Also, changes in tree species composition during the post-hurricane period reflected a directional shift from seedling and tree communities dominated by acquisitive towards conservative leaf economics traits and large seed mass. Wood specific gravity, however, did not show significant directional changes over time.

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    Organisms of all species must balance their allocation to growth, survival and recruitment. Among tree species, evolution has resulted in different life‐history strategies for partitioning resources to these key demographic processes. Life‐history strategies in tropical forests have often been shown to align along a trade‐off between fast growth and high survival, that is, the well‐known fast–slow continuum. In addition, an orthogonal trade‐off has been proposed between tall stature—resulting from fast growth and high survival—and recruitment success, that is, a stature−recruitment trade‐off. However, it is not clear whether these two independent dimensions of life‐history variation structure tropical forests worldwide.

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