Temporal Changes in Tree Species and Trait Composition in a Cyclone-prone Pacific Dipterocarp Forest
Our understanding of the effects of tropical cyclones on species composition and dynamics of forest communities is mainly derived from studies that have considered single cyclonic events. Here we examined changes in the tree species and functional trait composition in an 8-ha Dipterocarp forest at Palanan in the northeastern Philippines that is subject to a high frequency of cyclonic disturbance (1–4 cyclones annually). The plot has been censused four times over a 16-year interval allowing us to consider the medium-term forest dynamics in response to repeated cyclones. We hypothesized that as the forest community in Palanan has been selected under frequent disturbance by cyclones, it should show little functional change across the census intervals. We analyzed changes in demography, species composition, and community-weighted functional traits (specific leaf area, leaf area, wood density, and specific growth rate) across the censuses and compared these against cyclone intensities during the census intervals. Demographic changes across census years suggest that the community responded to cyclonic disturbances through substantial turnover in the small- and medium-size individuals, and that there has been an increase in plot-level stem density and basal area across the measured period. Trait compositional changes from 1994 to 2010 were mostly small, but indicate a shift towards species with larger leaves and faster growth rates—traits that are associated with fast recovery after disturbance. These changes all coincide with a large intense cyclone between the second and third censuses, suggesting that cyclone strength, more than cyclone frequency, affects this forest.