Conspecific negative density dependence in rainy season enhanced seedling diversity across habitats in a tropical forest
Conspecific negative density dependence (CNDD) could be one of the most important local-scale mechanisms shaping plant species coexistence. However, the spatial and temporal changes in the strength CNDD and the implications for the plant diversity remain unknown. We used 10 years of seedling data, in a seasonal tropical rainforest, to discover how CNDD influences tree seedling survival across habitats and seasons. We also evaluated the relation between CNDD and species diversity. We found the strength of CNDD in the valley habitat was significantly stronger than in ridge habitat in rainy season, but not significantly different in dry season. Corresponding to expectations of CNDD as mechanism of diversity maintenance, seedling species diversity was significantly higher in valley habitat than in ridge habitat and significantly correlated with CNDD. Additionally, conspecific and heterospecific seedling neighbour densities positively affected the survival of tree seedlings, but heterospecific adult neighbour density had a weak effect. Our study finds that CNDD varied significantly across habitats and was correlated with local seedling diversity. Our results highlight the importance of CNDD in driving species diversity at the local scale. Recognizing the spatial and temporal variation in the strength of CNDD will aid efforts to model and understand species coexistence.