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  1. 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.


    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.


    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.

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  2. Abstract

    Numerous studies have shown reduced performance in plants that are surrounded by neighbours of the same species1,2, a phenomenon known as conspecific negative density dependence (CNDD)3. A long-held ecological hypothesis posits that CNDD is more pronounced in tropical than in temperate forests4,5, which increases community stabilization, species coexistence and the diversity of local tree species6,7. Previous analyses supporting such a latitudinal gradient in CNDD8,9have suffered from methodological limitations related to the use of static data10–12. Here we present a comprehensive assessment of latitudinal CNDD patterns using dynamic mortality data to estimate species-site-specific CNDD across 23 sites. Averaged across species, we found that stabilizing CNDD was present at all except one site, but that average stabilizing CNDD was not stronger toward the tropics. However, in tropical tree communities, rare and intermediate abundant species experienced stronger stabilizing CNDD than did common species. This pattern was absent in temperate forests, which suggests that CNDD influences species abundances more strongly in tropical forests than it does in temperate ones13. We also found that interspecific variation in CNDD, which might attenuate its stabilizing effect on species diversity14,15, was high but not significantly different across latitudes. Although the consequences of these patterns for latitudinal diversity gradients are difficult to evaluate, we speculate that a more effective regulation of population abundances could translate into greater stabilization of tropical tree communities and thus contribute to the high local diversity of tropical forests.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 21, 2025
  3. 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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  4. Abstract

    One mechanism proposed to explain high species diversity in tropical systems is strong negative conspecific density dependence (CDD), which reduces recruitment of juveniles in proximity to conspecific adult plants. Although evidence shows that plant-specific soil pathogens can drive negative CDD, trees also form key mutualisms with mycorrhizal fungi, which may counteract these effects. Across 43 large-scale forest plots worldwide, we tested whether ectomycorrhizal tree species exhibit weaker negative CDD than arbuscular mycorrhizal tree species. We further tested for conmycorrhizal density dependence (CMDD) to test for benefit from shared mutualists. We found that the strength of CDD varies systematically with mycorrhizal type, with ectomycorrhizal tree species exhibiting higher sapling densities with increasing adult densities than arbuscular mycorrhizal tree species. Moreover, we found evidence of positive CMDD for tree species of both mycorrhizal types. Collectively, these findings indicate that mycorrhizal interactions likely play a foundational role in global forest diversity patterns and structure.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2024
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  6. 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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  7. 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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  8. Abstract

    Studies of spatial point patterns (SPPs) are often used to examine the role that density‐dependence (DD) and environmental filtering (EF) play in community assembly and species coexistence in forest communities. However, SPP analyses often struggle to distinguish the opposing effects that DD and EF may have on the distribution of tree species.

    We tested percolation threshold analysis on simulated tree communities as a method to distinguish the importance of thinning from DD EF on SPPs. We then compared the performance of percolation threshold analysis results and a Gibbs point process model in detecting environmental associations as well as clustering patterns or overdispersion. Finally, we applied percolation threshold analysis and the Gibbs point process model to observed SPPs of 12 dominant tree species in a Puerto Rican forest to detect evidence of DD and EF.

    Percolation threshold analysis using simulated SPPs detected a decrease in clustering due to DD and an increase in clustering from EF. In contrast, the Gibbs point process model clearly detected the effects of EF but only identified DD thinning in two of the four types of simulated SPPs. Percolation threshold analysis on the 12 observed tree species' SPPs found that the SPPs for two species were consistent with thinning from DD processes only, four species had SPPs consistent with EF only and SPP for five reflected a combination of both processes. Gibbs models of observed SPPs of living trees detected significant environmental associations for 11 species and clustering consistent with DD processes for seven species.

    Percolation threshold analysis is a robust method for detecting community assembly processes in simulated SPPs. By applying percolation threshold analysis to natural communities, we found that tree SPPs were consistent with thinning from both DD and EF. Percolation threshold analysis was better suited to detect DD thinning than Gibbs models for clustered simulated communities. Percolation threshold analysis improves our understanding of forest community assembly processes by quantifying the relative importance of DD and EF in forest communities.

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  9. null (Ed.)