Demographic trade-offs and functional shifts in a hurricane-impacted tropical forest

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.

María Natalia Umaña, Jessica Needham, Jimena Forero-Montaña, Christopher J Nytch, Nathan G Swenson, Jill Thompson, María Uriarte, Jess K Zimmerman
Annals of Botany