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Habitat fragmentation remains a major focus of research by ecologists decades after being put forward as a threat to the integrity of ecosystems. While studies have documented myriad biotic changes in fragmented landscapes, including the local extinction of species from fragments, the demographic mechanisms underlying these extinctions are rarely known. However, many of them—especially in lowland tropical forests—are thought to be driven by one of two mechanisms: (1) reduced recruitment in fragments resulting from changes in the diversity or abundance of pollinators and seed dispersers or (2) increased rates of individual mortality in fragments due to dramatically altered abiotic conditions, especially near fragment edges. Unfortunately, there have been few tests of these potential mechanisms due to the paucity of long‐term and comprehensive demographic data collected in both forest fragments and continuous forest sites. Here we report 11 years (1998–2009) of demographic data from populations of the Amazonian understory herb
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Habitat fragmentation remains a major focus of research by ecologists decades after being put forward as a threat to the integrity of ecosystems. While studies have documented myriad biotic changes in fragmented landscapes, including the local extinction of species from fragments, the demographic mechanisms underlying these extinctions are rarely known. However, many of them – especially in lowland tropical forests – are thought to be driven by one of two mechanisms: (1) reduced recruitment in fragments resulting from changes in the diversity or abundance of pollinators and seed dispersers or (2) increased rates of individual mortality in fragments due to dramatically altered abiotic conditions, especially near fragment edges. Unfortunately, there have been few tests of these potential mechanisms due to the paucity of long-term and comprehensive demographic data collected in both forest fragments and continuous forest sites. Here we report 11 years (1998-2009) of demographic data from populations of the Amazonian understory herb Heliconia acuminata (LC Rich.) found at Brazil’s Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project (BDFFP). The resulting data set comprises 66000 plant×year records of 8586 plants, including 3464 seedlings that became established after the initial census. Seven populations were in experimentally isolated fragments (one in each of four 1-ha fragments and one in each of three 10-ha fragments), with the remaining six populations in continuous forest. Each population was in a 50×100m permanent plot, with the distance between plots ranging from 500 m-60 km. The plants in each plot were censused annually, at which time we recorded, identified, marked, and measured new seedlings, identified any previously marked plants that died, and recorded the size of surviving individuals. Each plot was also surveyed 4-5 times during the flowering season to identify reproductive plants and record the number of inflorescences each produced. These data have been used to investigate topics ranging from the way fragmentation-related reductions in germination influence population dynamics to statistical methods for analyzing reproductive rates. This breadth of prior use reflects the value of these data to future researchers. In addition to analyses of plant responses to habitat fragmentation, these data can be used to address fundamental questions in plant demography, the evolutionary ecology of tropical plants, and for developing and testing demographic models and tools. Though we welcome opportunities to collaborate with interested users, there are no restrictions on the use this data set. However, we do request that those using the data for teaching or research inform us of how they are doing so and cite this paper and the data archive when appropriate. Any publication using the data must also include a BDFFP Technical Series Number in the Acknowledgments. Authors can request this series number upon the acceptance of their article by contacting the BDFFP’s Scientific Coordinator or E. M. Bruna.more » « less
Tropical forests are well known for their high woody plant diversity. Processes occurring at early life stages are thought to play a critical role in maintaining this high diversity and shaping the composition of tropical tree communities. To evaluate hypothesized mechanisms promoting tropical tree species coexistence and influencing composition, we initiated a census of woody seedlings and small saplings in the permanent 50 ha Forest Dynamics Plot (FDP) on Barro Colorado Island (BCI), Panama. Situated in old‐growth, lowland tropical moist forest, the BCI FDP was originally established in 1980 to monitor trees and shrubs ≥1 cm diameter at 1.3 m above ground (dbh) at ca. 5‐year intervals. However, critical data on the dynamics occurring at earlier life stages were initially lacking. Therefore, in 2001 we established a 1‐m2seedling plot in the center of every 5 × 5 m section of the BCI FDP. All freestanding woody individuals ≥20 cm tall and <1 cm dbh (hereafter referred to as seedlings) were tagged, mapped, measured, and identified to species in 19,313 1‐m2seedling plots. Because seedling dynamics are rapid, we censused these seedling plots every 1–2 years. Here, we present data from the 14 censuses of these seedling plots conducted between the initial census in 2001 to the most recent census, in 2018. This data set includes nearly 1 M observations of ~185,000 individuals of >400 tree, shrub, and liana species. These data will permit spatially‐explicit analyses of seedling distributions, recruitment, growth, and survival for hundreds of woody plant species. In addition, the data presented here can be linked to openly‐available, long‐term data on the dynamics of trees and shrubs ≥1 cm dbh in the BCI FDP, as well as existing data sets from the site on climate, canopy structure, phylogenetic relatedness, functional traits, soil nutrients, and topography. This data set can be freely used for non‐commercial purposes; we request that users of these data cite this data paper in all publications resulting from the use of this data set.
Land-use history is the template upon which contemporary plant and tree populations establish and interact with one another and exerts a legacy on the structure and dynamics of species assemblages and ecosystems. We use the first census (2010–2014) of a 35-ha forest-dynamics plot at the Harvard Forest in central Massachusetts to describe the composition and structure of the woody plants in this plot, assess their spatial associations within and among the dominant species using univariate and bivariate spatial point-pattern analysis, and examine the interactions between land-use history and ecological processes. The plot includes 108,632 live stems ≥ 1 cm in diameter (2,215 individuals/ha) and 7,595 standing dead stems ≥ 5 cm in diameter. Live tree basal area averaged 42.25 m 2 /ha, of which 84% was represented by Tsuga canadensis (14.0 m 2 / ha), Quercus rubra (northern red oak; 9.6 m2/ ha), Acer rubrum (7.2 m 2 / ha) and Pinus strobus (eastern white pine; 4.4 m 2 / ha). These same four species also comprised 78% of the live aboveground biomass, which averaged 245.2 Mg/ ha. Across all species and size classes, the forest contains a preponderance (> 80,000) of small stems (<10-cm diameter) that exhibit a reverse-J size distribution. Significant spatial clustering of abundant overstory species was observed at all spatial scales examined. Spatial distributions of A. rubrum and Q. rubra showed negative intraspecific correlations in diameters up to at least a 150-m spatial lag, likely indicative of crowding effects in dense forest patches following intensive past land use. Bivariate marked point-pattern analysis, showed that T. canadensis and Q. rubra diameters were negatively associated with one another, indicating resource competition for light. Distribution and abundance of the common overstory species are predicted best by soil type, tree neighborhood effects, and two aspects of land-use history: when fields were abandoned in the late 19th century and the succeeding forest types recorded in 1908. In contrast, a history of intensive logging prior to 1950 and a damaging hurricane in 1938 appear to have had little effect on the distribution and abundance of present-day tree species. Our findings suggest that current day composition and structure are still being influenced by anthropogenic disturbances that occurred over a century ago.more » « less
Woody encroachment into grassy biomes is a global phenomenon, often resulting in a nearly complete turnover of species, with savanna specialists being replaced by forest‐adapted species. Understanding the mechanisms involved in this change is important for devising strategies for managing savannas.
We examined how isolated trees favour woody encroachment and species turnover by overcoming dispersal limitation and environmental filtering. In a savanna released from fire in south‐eastern Brazil (Cerrado), we sampled woody plants establishing under 40 tree canopies and in paired treeless plots. These trees comprised eight species selected for habitat preference (savanna or forest) and dispersal syndrome (bird dispersed or not). We recorded dimensions of each tree, dispersal syndrome and habitat preference of recruits, and quantified the physical environment within each plot, aiming at a mechanistic understanding of woody encroachment.
We found clear evidence that isolated trees cause nucleation and drive changes in functional composition of savanna. Effectiveness as nucleator differed among species, but was unrelated to their functional guilds (habitat preference or dispersal syndrome). The density of saplings in nuclei was partially explained by soil moisture (+), daily temperature amplitude (−) and sum of bases (−).
Our results indicate that isolated trees act first as perches, strongly favouring bird‐dispersed species. They then act as nurse trees, considerably changing the environment in favour of forest‐adapted recruits. In the long term, as the nuclei expand and merge, savanna specialists tend to disappear and the savanna turns into a low‐diversity forest.
Synthesis and applications. Fire suppression has allowed the nucleation process and consequently the woody encroachment and fast replacement of savanna specialists by forest species in the Cerrado. By elucidating the mechanisms behind woody encroachment, we recommend using prescribed fires to burn forest seedlings and to reduce tree canopy size wherever the management goal is to maintain the typical savanna structure and composition.
Large terrestrial herbivorous mammals (LTH‐mammals) influence plant community structure by affecting seedling establishment in mature tropical forests. Many of these LTH‐mammals frequent secondary forests, but their effects on seedling establishment in them are understudied, hindering our understanding of how LTH‐mammals influence forest regeneration in human‐modified landscapes.
We tested the hypothesis that the strength of LTH‐mammals' effects on seedling establishment depends on landscape protection, forest successional stage and plant species' traits using a manipulative field experiment in six 1‐ha sites with varying successional age and landscape protection. In each site, we established 40 seedling plot‐pairs, with one plot excluding LTH‐mammals and one not, and monitored seedlings of 116 woody species for 26 months.
We found significant effects of LTH‐mammal exclusion on seedling survival contingent upon the protection of forests at the landscape level and forest stage. After 26 months, survival differences between LTH‐mammal exclusion and non‐exclusion treatments were greater in protected than unprotected landscapes. Additionally, plant species' traits were related to the LTH‐mammals' differential effects, as LTH‐mammals reduced the survival of seedlings of larger‐seeded species the most. Overall, LTH‐mammals' effects translated into significant shifts in community composition as seedling communities inside and outside the exclosures diverged. Moreover, lower density and higher species diversity were found as early as 12 and 18 months outside than inside exclosures.
Synthesis and applications.Insight into the interactions between LTH‐mammals and seedling communities in forest regeneration can be instrumental in planning effective restoration efforts. We highlight the importance of landscape protection in seedling survival and the role of LTH‐mammals in promoting seedling diversity in mature forests but also in secondary successional forests. The findings suggest that conservation efforts and possibly trophic rewilding can be important approaches for preserving diversity and influencing the trajectory of secondary tropical forest succession. However, we also caution that an overabundance of LTH‐mammals may adversely impact the pace of forest succession due to their preference for large‐seeded species. Therefore, a comprehensive wildlife management plan is indispensable. Additionally, longer term studies on LTH‐mammals are necessary to understand the effects of temporal fluctuations that are undetected in short‐term studies.