Successional shifts in tree demographic strategies in wet and dry Neotropical forests
Tropical forest succession and associated changes in community composition are driven by species demographic rates, but how demographic strategies shift during succession remains unclear. Our goal was to identify generalities in demographic trade-offs and successional shifts in demographic strategies across Neotropical forests that cover a large rainfall gradient and to test whether the current conceptual model of tropical forest succession applies to wet and dry forests.
Mexico and Central America.
Major taxa studied
We used repeated forest inventory data from two wet and two dry forests to quantify demographic rates of 781 tree species. For each forest, we explored the main demographic trade-offs and assigned tree species to five demographic groups by performing a weighted principal components analysis to account for differences in sample size. We aggregated the basal area and abundance across demographic groups to identify successional shifts in demographic strategies over the entire successional gradient from very young (<5 years) to old-growth forests.
Across all forests, we found two demographic trade-offs, namely the growth–survival trade-off and the stature–recruitment trade-off, enabling the data-driven assignment of species to five demographic strategies. Fast species dominated early in succession and were then replaced by long-lived pioneers in three forests. Intermediate and slow species increased in basal area over succession in all forests, but, in contrast to the current conceptual model, long-lived pioneers continued to dominate until the old-growth stage in all forests. The basal area of short-lived breeders was low across all successional stages.
The current conceptual model of Neotropical forest succession should be revised to incorporate the dominance of long-lived pioneers in late-successional and old-growth forests. Moreover, the definition of consistent demographic strategies that show clear dominance shifts across succession substantially improves the mechanistic understanding and predictability of Neotropical forest succession.