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  1. Abstract

    Projected increases in hurricane intensity under a warming climate will have profound effects on many forest ecosystems. One key challenge is to disentangle the effects of wind damage from the myriad factors that influence forest structure and species distributions over large spatial scales. Here, we employ a novel machine learning framework with high‐resolution aerial photos, and LiDAR collected over 115 km2of El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico to examine the effects of topographic exposure to two hurricanes, Hugo (1989) and Georges (1998), and several landscape‐scale environmental factors on the current forest height and abundance of a dominant, wind‐resistant species, the palmPrestoea acuminata var. montana. Model predictions show that the average density of the palm was 32% greater while the canopy height was 20% shorter in forests exposed to the two storms relative to unexposed areas. Our results demonstrate that hurricanes have lasting effects on forest canopy height and composition, suggesting the expected increase in hurricane severity with a warming climate will alter coastal forests in the North Atlantic.

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  2. Abstract

    Collaboration between ecologists and learning scientists can give rise to powerful models for scientific outreach within ecology. This paper presents a process by which learning scientists and ecologists codesigned a science curriculum that invites students to join an ecological community of practice. In theJourney to El Yunquemiddle school science curriculum, students engage with simulation models generated from data gathered by Luquillo Long Term Ecological Research (LUQ LTER) scientists.Journey to El Yunquestudents can explore post‐hurricane population changes in yagrumo (Cecropia schreberiana), tabonuco (Dacryodes excelsa), coquís (Eleutherodactylus coquí), snails (Caracolus caracola), anoles (Anolis stratulusandA. gundlachi), veiled stinkhorn mushrooms (Dictyophora indusiata), and caterpillars (Historis odius). Ecology‐based revisions toJourney to El Yunquehave included adding models of the effects of repeated hurricanes on limiting factors, based in part on findings from a canopy trimming experiment. Revisions based on classroom testing include simplifying student‐facing model controls to allow students to focus on the essential model components. The ongoing collaboration that keeps theJourney to El Yunquecurriculum on the cutting edge of ecological and educational advances has been sustained for over two decades. We attribute the longevity of this work to (1) the long‐term nature of LUQ LTER, (2) a sustained interdisciplinary collaboration, and (3) our long‐term relationships with schools.

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  3. 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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  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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  5. Abstract Forest and freshwater ecosystems are tightly linked and together provide important ecosystem services, but climate change is affecting their species composition, structure, and function. Research at nine US Long Term Ecological Research sites reveals complex interactions and cascading effects of climate change, some of which feed back into the climate system. Air temperature has increased at all sites, and those in the Northeast have become wetter, whereas sites in the Northwest and Alaska have become slightly drier. These changes have altered streamflow and affected ecosystem processes, including primary production, carbon storage, water and nutrient cycling, and community dynamics. At some sites, the direct effects of climate change are the dominant driver altering ecosystems, whereas at other sites indirect effects or disturbances and stressors unrelated to climate change are more important. Long-term studies are critical for understanding the impacts of climate change on forest and freshwater ecosystems. 
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  6. 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
  7. 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.

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