Drought and the interannual variability of stem growth in an aseasonal, everwet forest
Linking drought to the timing of physiological processes governing tree growth remains one limitation in forecasting climate change effects on tropical trees. Using dendrometers, we measured fine-scale growth for 96 trees of 25 species from 2013 to 2016 in an everwet forest in Puerto Rico. Rainfall over this time span varied, including an unusual, severe El Niño drought in 2015. We assessed how growing season onset, median day, conclusion, and length varied with absolute growth rate and tree size over time. Stem growth was seasonal, beginning in February, peaking in July, and ending in November. Species growth rates varied between 0 and 8 mm/year and correlated weakly with specific leaf area, leaf phosphorus, and leaf nitrogen, and to a lesser degree with wood specific gravity and plant height. Drought and tree growth were decoupled, and drought lengthened and increased variation in growing season length. During the 2015 drought, many trees terminated growth early but did not necessarily grow less. In the year following drought, trees grew more over a shorter growing season, with many smaller trees showing a post-drought increase in growth. We attribute the increased growth of smaller trees to release from light limitation as the canopy thinned because of the drought, and less inferred hydraulic stress than larger trees during drought. Soil type accounted for interannual and interspecific differences, with the finest Zarzal clays reducing tree growth. We conclude that drought affects the phenological timing of tree growth and favors the post-drought growth of smaller, sub-canopy trees in this everwet forest.