skip to main content


Title: Demographic trade-offs and functional shifts in a hurricane-impacted tropical forest
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.

Conclusions

Our study demonstrates that tree demographic strategies coping with frequent storms and hurricane disturbances deviate from strategies typically observed in undisturbed forests, yet the shifts in functional composition still conform to the expected changes from acquisitive to conservative resource-uptake strategies expected over succession. In the face of increased rates of natural and anthropogenic disturbance in tropical regions, our results anticipate shifts in species demographic trade-offs and different functional dimensions.

 
more » « less
Award ID(s):
1831952
NSF-PAR ID:
10398923
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
Oxford University Press
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Annals of Botany
ISSN:
0305-7364
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    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.

    Variation in plant functional traits related to resource acquisition is thought to predict variation in performance among species, perhaps explaining community assembly across habitats with gradients in resource availability. Many studies have found low predictive power, however, when linking trait measurements to species demographic rates.

    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.

    Synthesis: With strikingly consistent patterns across three tropical forests, we find strong evidence for the promise of functional traits to provide mechanistic links between seedling form and demographic performance.

     
    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Microclimatic conditions change dramatically as forests age and impose strong filters on community assembly during succession. Light availability is the most limiting environmental factor in tropical wet forest succession; by contrast, water availability is predicted to strongly influence tropical dry forest (TDF) successional dynamics. While mechanisms underlying TDF successional trajectories are not well understood, observational studies have demonstrated that TDF communities transition from being dominated by species with conservative traits to species with acquisitive traits, the opposite of tropical wet forest. Determining how functional traits predict TDF tree species’ responses to changing environmental conditions could elucidate mechanisms underlying tree performance during TDF succession. We implemented a 6‐ha restoration experiment on a degraded Vertisol in Costa Rica to determine (1) how TDF tree species with different resource‐use strategies performed along a successional gradient and (2) how ecophysiological functional traits correlated with tree performance in simulated successional stages. We used two management treatments to simulate distinct successional stages including: clearing all remnant vegetation (early‐succession), or interplanting seedlings with no clearing (mid‐succession). We crossed these two management treatments (cleared/interplanted) with two species mixes with different resource‐use strategies (acquisitive/conservative) to examine their interaction. Overall seedling survival after 2 yr was low, 15.1–26.4% in the four resource‐use‐strategy × management‐treatment combinations, and did not differ between the management treatments or resource‐use‐strategy groups. However, seedling growth rates were dramatically higher for all species in the cleared treatment (year 1, 69.1% higher; year 2, 143.3% higher) and defined resource‐use strategies had some capacity to explain seedling performance. Overall, ecophysiological traits were better predictors of species’ growth and survival than resource‐use strategies defined by leaf and stem traits such as specific leaf area. Moreover, ecophysiological traits related to water use had a stronger influence on seedling performance in the cleared, early‐successional treatment, indicating that the influence of microclimatic conditions on tree survival and growth shifts predictably during TDF succession. Our findings suggest that ecophysiological traits should be explicitly considered to understand shifts in TDF functional composition during succession and that using these traits to design species mixes could greatly improve TDF restoration outcomes.

     
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    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.

    We used data from 13 large‐scale and long‐term tropical forest monitoring plots in three continents to explore the principal trade‐offs in annual growth, survival and recruitment as well as tree stature. These forests included relatively undisturbed forests as well as typhoon‐disturbed forests. Life‐history variation in 12 forests was structured by two orthogonal trade‐offs, the growth−survival trade‐off and the stature−recruitment trade‐off. Pairwise Procrustes analysis revealed a high similarity of demographic relationships among forests. The small deviations were related to differences between African and Asian plots.

    Synthesis. The fast–slow continuum and tree stature are two independent dimensions structuring many, but not all tropical tree communities. Our discovery of the consistency of demographic trade‐offs and life‐history strategies across different forest types from three continents substantially improves our ability to predict tropical forest dynamics worldwide.

     
    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Human‐altered disturbance regimes and changing climatic conditions can reduce seed availability and suitable microsites, limiting seedling regeneration in recovering forest systems. Thus, resprouting plants, which can persist in situ, are expected to expand in dominance in many disturbance‐prone forests. However, resprouters may also be challenged by changing regimes, and the mechanisms determining facultative seedling recruitment by resprouting species, which will determine both the future spread and current persistence of these populations, are poorly understood. In the resprouter‐dominated forests of coastal California, interactions between wildfire and an emerging disease, sudden oak death (SOD), alter disturbance severity and tree mortality, which may shift forest regeneration trajectories. We examine this set of compound disturbances to (1) assess the influence of seed limitation, biotic competition, and abiotic conditions on seedling regeneration in resprouting populations; (2) investigate whether disease‐fire interactions alter postfire seedling regeneration, which have implications for future disease dynamics and shifts in forest composition. Following a wildfire that impacted a preexisting plot network in SOD‐affected forests, we monitored seedling abundances and survival over eight years. With pre‐ and postfire data, we assessed relationships between regeneration dynamics and disturbance severity, biotic, and abiotic variables, using Bayesian generalized linear models and mixed models. Our results indicate that postfire seedling regeneration by resprouting species was shaped by contrasting mechanisms reflecting seed limitation and competitive release. Seedling abundances declined with decreasing postfire survival of mature, conspecific stems, while belowground survival of resprouting genets had no effect. However, where seed sources persisted, seedling abundances and survival generally increased with the prefire severity of disease impacts, suggesting that decreased competition with adults may enhance seedling recruitment in this resprouter‐dominated system. Species’ regeneration responses varied with their relative susceptibility to SOD and suggest compositional shifts, which will determine future disease management and forest restoration actions. These results additionally highlight that mechanisms related to biotic competition, seed limitation, and opportunities for seedling recruitment beneath mature canopies may determine possible shifts in the occurrence of resprouting traits. This result has broad applications to other systems impacted by human‐altered regimes where asexual persistence may be predicted to be a beneficial life history strategy.

     
    more » « less
  5. Human-altered disturbance regimes and changing climatic conditions can reduce seed availability and suitable microsites, limiting seedling regeneration in recovering forest systems. Thus, resprouting plants, which can persist in situ, are expected to expand in dominance in many disturbance-prone forests. However, resprouters may also be challenged by changing regimes, and the mechanisms determining facultative seedling recruitment by resprouting species, which will determine both the future spread and current persistence of these populations, are poorly understood. In the resprouter-dominated forests of coastal California, interactions between wildfire and an emerging disease, sudden oak death (SOD), alter disturbance severity and tree mortality, which may shift forest regeneration trajectories. We examine this set of compound disturbances to (1) assess the influence of seed limitation, biotic competition, and abiotic conditions on seedling regeneration in resprouting populations; (2) investigate whether disease-fire interactions alter postfire seedling regeneration, which have implications for future disease dynamics and shifts in forest composition. Following a wildfire that impacted a preexisting plot network in SOD-affected forests, we monitored seedling abundances and survival over eight years. With pre- and postfire data, we assessed relationships between regeneration dynamics and disturbance severity, biotic, and abiotic variables, using Bayesian generalized linear models and mixed models. Our results indicate that postfire seedling regeneration by resprouting species was shaped by contrasting mechanisms reflecting seed limitation and competitive release. Seedling abundances declined with decreasing postfire survival of mature, conspecific stems, while belowground survival of resprouting genets had no effect. However, where seed sources persisted, seedling abundances and survival generally increased with the prefire severity of disease impacts, suggesting that decreased competition with adults may enhance seedling recruitment in this resprouter-dominated system. Species’ regeneration responses varied with their relative susceptibility to SOD and suggest compositional shifts, which will determine future disease management and forest restoration actions. These results additionally highlight that mechanisms related to biotic competition, seed limitation, and opportunities for seedling recruitment beneath mature canopies may determine possible shifts in the occurrence of resprouting traits. This result has broad applications to other systems impacted by human-altered regimes where asexual persistence may be predicted to be a beneficial life history strategy. 
    more » « less