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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 25, 2025
  2. Abstract

    Tropical rainforest woody plants have been thought to have uniformly low resistance to hydraulic failure and to function near the edge of their hydraulic safety margin (HSM), making these ecosystems vulnerable to drought; however, this may not be the case. Using data collected at 30 tropical forest sites for three key traits associated with drought tolerance, we show that site‐level hydraulic diversity of leaf turgor loss point, resistance to embolism (P50), and HSMs is high across tropical forests and largely independent of water availability. Species with high HSMs (>1 MPa) and low P50values (< −2 MPa) are common across the wet and dry tropics. This high site‐level hydraulic diversity, largely decoupled from water stress, could influence which species are favoured and become dominant under a drying climate. High hydraulic diversity could also make these ecosystems more resilient to variable rainfall regimes.

     
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 1, 2024
  3. Abstract

    Droughts are predicted to become more frequent and intense in many tropical regions, which may cause shifts in plant community composition. Especially in diverse tropical communities, understanding how traits mediate demographic responses to drought can help provide insight into the effects of climate change on these ecosystems. To understand tropical tree responses to reduced soil moisture, we grew seedlings of eight species across an experimental soil moisture gradient at the Luquillo Experimental Forest, Puerto Rico. We quantified survival and growth over an 8‐month period and characterized demographic responses in terms of tolerance to low soil moisture—defined as survival and growth rates under low soil moisture conditions—and sensitivity to variation in soil moisture—defined as more pronounced changes in demographic rates across the observed range of soil moisture. We then compared demographic responses with interspecific variation in a suite of 11 (root, stem, and leaf) functional traits, measured on individuals that survived the experiment. Lower soil moisture was associated with reduced survival and growth but traits mediated species‐specific responses. Species with relatively conservative traits (e.g., high leaf mass per area), had higher survival at low soil moisture whereas species with more extensive root systems were more sensitive to soil moisture, in that they exhibited more pronounced changes in growth across the experimental soil moisture gradient. Our results suggest that increasing drought will favor species with more conservative traits that confer greater survival in low soil moisture conditions.

     
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  4. Abstract

    Trait variation across individuals and species influences the resistance and resilience of ecosystems to disturbance, and the ability of individuals to capitalize on postdisturbance conditions. In trees, the anatomical structure of xylem directly affects plant function and, consequently, it is a valuable lens through which to understand resistance and resilience to disturbance.

    To determine how hurricanes affect wood anatomy of tropical trees, we characterized a set of anatomical traits in wood produced before and after a major hurricane for 65 individuals of 10 Puerto Rican tree species. We quantified variation at different scales (among and within species, and within individuals) and determined trait shifts between the pre‐ and posthurricane periods. We also assessed correlations between traits and growth rates.

    While the majority of anatomical trait variation occurred among species, we also observed substantial variation within species and individuals. Within individuals, we found significant shifts for some traits that generally reflected increased hydraulic conductivity in the posthurricane period. We found weak evidence for an association between individual xylem anatomical traits and diameter growth rates.

    Ultimately, within‐individual variation of xylem anatomical traits observed in our study could be related to posthurricane recovery and overall growth (e.g. canopy filling). Other factors, however, likely decouple a relationship between xylem anatomy and diameter growth. While adjustments of wood anatomy may enable individual trees to capitalize on favourable postdisturbance conditions, these may also influence their future responses or vulnerability to subsequent disturbances.

    Read the freePlain Language Summaryfor this article on the Journal blog.

     
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  6. Predicting drought responses of individual trees in tropical forests remains challenging, in part because trees experience drought differently depending on their position in spatially heterogeneous environments. Specifically, topography and the competitive environment can influence the severity of water stress experienced by individual trees, leading to individual-level variation in drought impacts. A drought in 2015 in Puerto Rico provided the opportunity to assess how drought response varies with topography and neighborhood crowding in a tropical forest. In this study, we integrated 3 years of annual census data from the El Yunque Chronosequence plots with measurements of functional traits and LiDAR-derived metrics of microsite topography. We fit hierarchical Bayesian models to examine how drought, microtopography, and neighborhood crowding influence individual tree growth and survival, and the role functional traits play in mediating species’ responses to these drivers. We found that while growth was lower during the drought year, drought had no effect on survival, suggesting that these forests are fairly resilient to a single-year drought. However, growth response to drought, as well as average growth and survival, varied with topography: tree growth in valley-like microsites was more negatively affected by drought, and survival was lower on steeper slopes while growth was higher in valleys. Neighborhood crowding reduced growth and increased survival, but these effects did not vary between drought/non-drought years. Functional traits provided some insight into mechanisms by which drought and topography affected growth and survival. For example, trees with high specific leaf area grew more slowly on steeper slopes, and high wood density trees were less sensitive to drought. However, the relationships between functional traits and response to drought and topography were weak overall. Species sorting across microtopography may drive observed relationships between average performance, drought response, and topography. Our results suggest that understanding species’ responses to drought requires consideration of the microenvironments in which they grow. Complex interactions between regional climate, topography, and traits underlie individual and species variation in drought response. 
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  7. Abstract

    Each year, an average of 45 tropical cyclones affect coastal areas and potentially impact forests. The proportion of the most intense cyclones has increased over the past four decades and is predicted to continue to do so. Yet, it remains uncertain how topographical exposure and tree characteristics can mediate the damage caused by increasing wind speed. Here, we compiled empirical data on the damage caused by 11 cyclones occurring over the past 40 years, from 74 forest plots representing tropical regions worldwide, encompassing field data for 22,176 trees and 815 species. We reconstructed the wind structure of those tropical cyclones to estimate the maximum sustained wind speed (MSW) and wind direction at the studied plots. Then, we used a causal inference framework combined with Bayesian generalised linear mixed models to understand and quantify the causal effects of MSW, topographical exposure to wind (EXP), tree size (DBH) and species wood density (ρ) on the proportion of damaged trees at the community level, and on the probability of snapping or uprooting at the tree level. The probability of snapping or uprooting at the tree level and, hence, the proportion of damaged trees at the community level, increased with increasing MSW, and with increasing EXP accentuating the damaging effects of cyclones, in particular at higher wind speeds. Higherρdecreased the probability of snapping and to a lesser extent of uprooting. Larger trees tended to have lower probabilities of snapping but increased probabilities of uprooting. Importantly, the effect ofρdecreasing the probabilities of snapping was more marked for smaller than larger trees and was further accentuated at higher MSW. Our work emphasises how local topography, tree size and species wood density together mediate cyclone damage to tropical forests, facilitating better predictions of the impacts of such disturbances in an increasingly windier world.

     
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  9. Abstract

    Severe droughts have led to lower plant growth and high mortality in many ecosystems worldwide, including tropical forests. Drought vulnerability differs among species, but there is limited consensus on the nature and degree of this variation in tropical forest communities. Understanding species‐level vulnerability to drought requires examination of hydraulic traits since these reflect the different strategies species employ for surviving drought.

    Here, we examined hydraulic traits and growth reductions during a severe drought for 12 common woody species in a wet tropical forest community in Puerto Rico to ask: Q1. To what extent can hydraulic traits predict growth declines during drought? We expected that species with more hydraulically vulnerable xylem and narrower safety margins (SMP50) would grow less during drought. Q2. How does species successional association relate to the levels of vulnerability to drought and hydraulic strategies? We predicted that early‐ and mid‐successional species would exhibit more acquisitive strategies, making them more susceptible to drought than shade‐tolerant species. Q3. What are the different hydraulic strategies employed by species and are there trade‐offs between drought avoidance and drought tolerance? We anticipated that species with greater water storage capacity would have leaves that lose turgor at higher xylem water potential and be less resistant to embolism forming in their xylem (P50).

    We found a large range of variation in hydraulic traits across species; however, they did not closely capture the magnitude of growth declines during drought. Among larger trees (≥10 cm diameter at breast height—DBH), some tree species with high xylem embolism vulnerability (P50) and risk of hydraulic failure (SMP50) experienced substantial growth declines during drought, but this pattern was not consistent across species. We found a trade‐off among species between drought avoidance (capacitance) and drought tolerating (P50) in this tropical forest community. Hydraulic strategies did not align with successional associations. Instead, some of the more drought‐vulnerable species were shade‐tolerant dominants in the community, suggesting that a drying climate could lead to shifts in long‐term forest composition and function in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.

    Read the freePlain Language Summaryfor this article on the Journal blog.

     
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  10. The field of distributional ecology has seen considerable recent attention, particularly surrounding the theory, protocols, and tools for Ecological Niche Modeling (ENM) or Species Distribution Modeling (SDM). Such analyses have grown steadily over the past two decades—including a maturation of relevant theory and key concepts—but methodological consensus has yet to be reached. In response, and following an online course taught in Spanish in 2018, we designed a comprehensive English-language course covering much of the underlying theory and methods currently applied in this broad field. Here, we summarize that course, ENM2020, and provide links by which resources produced for it can be accessed into the future. ENM2020 lasted 43 weeks, with presentations from 52 instructors, who engaged with >2500 participants globally through >14,000 hours of viewing and >90,000 views of instructional video and question-and-answer sessions. Each major topic was introduced by an “Overview” talk, followed by more detailed lectures on subtopics. The hierarchical and modular format of the course permits updates, corrections, or alternative viewpoints, and generally facilitates revision and reuse, including the use of only the Overview lectures for introductory courses. All course materials are free and openly accessible (CC-BY license) to ensure these resources remain available to all interested in distributional ecology. 
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