Seed Rain, Soil Seed Bank, and Seedling Emergence Indicate Limited Potential for Self-Recovery in a Highly Disturbed, Tropical, Mixed Deciduous Forest.
ABSTRACT: Human activity negatively affects the sustainability of forest ecosystems globally. Disturbed forests may or may not recover by themselves in a certain period of time. However, it is still unclear as to what parameters can be used to reasonably predict the potential for self-recovery of human-disturbed forests. Here, we combined seed rain, soil seed bank, and seed emergence experiments to evaluate the potential for self-recovery of a highly disturbed, tropical, mixed deciduous forest in northeastern Thailand. Our results show a limited potential for self-recovery of this forest due to low seedling input and storage and an extremely high mortality rate during the drought period. There were 15 tree species of seedlings present during the regeneration period in comparison with a total number of 56 tree species in current standing vegetation. During the dry season, only four tree seedling species survived, and the highest mortality rate reached 83.87%. We also found that the correspondence between the combined number of species and composition of plant communities obtained from seed rain, soil seed bank, and seedling emergence experiments and the standing vegetation was poor. We clearly show the temporal dynamics of the seed rain and seedling communities, which are driven by different plant reproductive phenology and dispersal mechanisms, and drought coupled with mortality. We conclude that this highly disturbed forest needs a management plan and could not recover by itself in a short period of time. We recommend the use of external seed and seedling supplies and the maintenance of soil water content (i.e., shading) during periods of drought in order to help increase seedling abundances and species richness, and to reduce the mortality rate.
Project description:Many tropical rain forest regions are at risk of increased future drought. The net effects of drought on forest ecosystem functioning will be substantial if important ecological thresholds are passed. However, understanding and predicting these effects is challenging using observational studies alone. Field-based rainfall exclusion (canopy throughfall exclusion; TFE) experiments can offer mechanistic insight into the response to extended or severe drought and can be used to help improve model-based simulations, which are currently inadequate. Only eight TFE experiments have been reported for tropical rain forests. We examine them, synthesizing key results and focusing on two processes that have shown threshold behavior in response to drought: (1) tree mortality and (2) the efflux of carbon dioxdie from soil, soil respiration. We show that: (a) where tested using large-scale field experiments, tropical rain forest tree mortality is resistant to long-term soil moisture deficit up to a threshold of 50% of the water that is extractable by vegetation from the soil, but high mortality occurs beyond this value, with evidence from one site of increased autotrophic respiration, and (b) soil respiration reaches its peak value in response to soil moisture at significantly higher soil moisture content for clay-rich soils than for clay-poor soils. This first synthesis of tropical TFE experiments offers the hypothesis that low soil moisture-related thresholds for key stress responses in soil and vegetation may prove to be widely applicable across tropical rain forests despite the diversity of these forests.
Project description:In fragmented forests, tree diversity declines near edges but the ecological processes underlying this loss of diversity remain poorly understood. Theory predicts that top-down regulation of seedling recruitment by insect herbivores and fungal pathogens contributes to maintaining tree diversity in forests, but it is unknown whether proximity to forest edges compromises these diversity-enhancing biotic interactions. Here we experimentally demonstrate that weakened activity of fungal pathogens and insect herbivores reduced seedling diversity, despite similar diversity of seed rain, during recruitment near forest edges in a human-modified tropical landscape. Only at sites farthest from forest edges (90-100?m) did the application of pesticides lower seedling diversity relative to control plots. Notably, lower seedling diversity corresponded with weaker density-dependent mortality attributable to insects and fungi during the seed-to-seedling transition. We provide mechanistic evidence that edge-effects can manifest as cryptic losses of crucial biotic interactions that maintain diversity.
Project description:Several factors decrease plant survival throughout their lifecycles. Among them, seed dispersal limitation may play a major role by resulting in highly aggregated (contagious) seed and seedling distributions entailing increased mortality. The arrival of seeds, furthermore, may not match suitable environments for seed survival and, consequently, for seedling establishment. In this study, we investigated spatio-temporal patterns of seed and seedling distribution in contrasting microhabitats (bamboo and non-bamboo stands) from the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. Spatial distribution patterns, spatial concordance between seed rain and seedling recruitment between subsequent years in two fruiting seasons (2004-2005 and 2007-2009), and the relation between seeds and seedlings with environmental factors were examined within a spatially-explicit framework. Density and species richness of both seeds and seedlings were randomly distributed in non-bamboo stands, but showed significant clustering in bamboo stands. Seed and seedling distributions showed across-year inconsistency, suggesting a marked spatial decoupling of the seed and seedling stages. Generalized linear mixed effects models indicated that only seed density and seed species richness differed between stand types while accounting for variation in soil characteristics. Our analyses provide evidence of marked recruitment limitation as a result of the interplay between biotic and abiotic factors. Because bamboo stands promote heterogeneity in the forest, they are important components of the landscape. However, at high densities, bamboos may limit recruitment for the plant community by imposing marked discordances of seed arrival and early seedling recruitment.
Project description:Tree species distribution in lowland tropical forests is strongly associated with rainfall amount and distribution. Not only plant water availability, but also irradiance, soil fertility, and pest pressure covary along rainfall gradients. To assess the role of water availability in shaping species distribution, we carried out a reciprocal transplanting experiment in gaps in a dry and a wet forest site in Ghana, using 2,670 seedlings of 23 tree species belonging to three contrasting rainfall distributions groups (dry species, ubiquitous species, and wet species). We evaluated seasonal patterns in climatic conditions, seedling physiology and performance (survival and growth) over a 2-year period and related seedling performance to species distribution along Ghana's rainfall gradient. The dry forest site had, compared to the wet forest, higher irradiance, and soil nutrient availability and experienced stronger atmospheric drought (2.0 vs. 0.6 kPa vapor pressure deficit) and reduced soil water potential (-5.0 vs. -0.6 MPa soil water potential) during the dry season. In both forests, dry species showed significantly higher stomatal conductance and lower leaf water potential, than wet species, and in the dry forest, dry species also realized higher drought survival and growth rate than wet species. Dry species are therefore more drought tolerant, and unlike the wet forest species, they achieve a home advantage. Species drought performance in the dry forest relative to the wet forest significantly predicted species position on the rainfall gradient in Ghana, indicating that the ability to grow and survive better in dry forests and during dry seasons may allow species to occur in low rainfall areas. Drought is therefore an important environmental filter that influences forest composition and dynamics. Currently, many tropical forests experience increase in frequency and intensity of droughts, and our results suggest that this may lead to reduction in tree productivity and shifts in species distribution.
Project description:Eucalyptus tetrodonta, a co-dominant tree species of tropical, northern Australian savannas, does not invade adjacent monsoon rain forest unless the forest is burnt intensely. Such facilitation by fire of seedling establishment is known as the "ashbed effect." Because the ashbed effect might involve disruption of common mycorrhizal networks, we hypothesized that in the absence of fire, intact rain forest arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) networks inhibit E. tetrodonta seedlings. Although arbuscular mycorrhizas predominate in the rain forest, common tree species of the northern Australian savannas (including adult E. tetrodonta) host ectomycorrhizas. To test our hypothesis, we grew E. tetrodonta and Ceiba pentandra (an AM-responsive species used to confirm treatments) separately in microcosms of ambient or methyl-bromide fumigated rain forest soil with or without severing potential mycorrhizal fungus connections to an AM nurse plant, Litsea glutinosa. As expected, C. pentandra formed mycorrhizas in all treatments but had the most root colonization and grew fastest in ambient soil. E. tetrodonta seedlings also formed AM in all treatments, but severing hyphae in fumigated soil produced the least colonization and the best growth. Three of ten E. tetrodonta seedlings in ambient soil with intact network hyphae died. Because foliar chlorosis was symptomatic of iron deficiency, after 130 days we began to fertilize half the E. tetrodonta seedlings in ambient soil with an iron solution. Iron fertilization completely remedied chlorosis and stimulated leaf growth. Our microcosm results suggest that in intact rain forest, common AM networks mediate belowground competition and AM fungi may exacerbate iron deficiency, thereby enhancing resistance to E. tetrodonta invasion. Common AM networks-previously unrecognized as contributors to the ashbed effect-probably help to maintain the rain forest-savanna boundary.
Project description:Considerable areas dominated by bracken Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn occur worldwide and are associated with arrested forest recovery. How forest recovery is impeded in these areas remains poorly understood, especially in the African highlands. The component processes that can lead to recruitment limitation-including low seed arrival, availability and persistence-are important determinants of plant communities and offer a potential explanation for bracken persistence. We investigated key processes that can contribute to recruitment limitation in bracken-dominated clearings in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. We examined if differences in seed rain (dispersal limitation), soil seed bank, or seed removal (seed viability and persistence) can, individually or in combination, explain the differences in tree regeneration found between bracken-dominated areas and the neighboring forest. These processes were assessed along ten 50-m transects crossing the forest-bracken boundary. When compared to the neighboring forest, bracken clearings had fewer seedlings (bracken 11,557 ± 5482 vs. forest 34,515 ± 6066 seedlings/ha), lower seed rain (949 ± 582 vs. 1605 ± 335 tree seeds m-2 year-1), comparable but sparse soil seed bank (304 ± 236 vs. 264 ± 99 viable tree seeds/m2), higher seed removal (70.1% ± 2.4% vs. 40.6% ± 2.4% over a 3-day interval), and markedly higher rodent densities (25.7 ± 5.4 vs. 5.0 ± 1.6 rodents per 100 trapping sessions). Camera traps revealed that rodents were the dominant animals visiting the seeds in our seed removal study. Synthesis: Recruitment limitation contributes to both the slow recovery of forest in bracken-dominated areas, and to the composition of the tree species that occur. Low seed arrival and low persistence of unburied seeds can both explain the reduced density of seedlings found in bracken versus neighboring forest. Seed removal, likely due to rodents, in particular appears sufficient to constrain forest recovery and impacts some species more severely than others.
Project description:The inclusion of environmental variation in studies of recruitment is a prerequisite for realistic predictions of the responses of vegetation to a changing environment. We investigated how seedling recruitment is affected by seed availability and microsite quality along a steep environmental gradient in dry tundra. A survey of natural seed rain and seedling density in vegetation was combined with observations of the establishment of 14 species after sowing into intact or disturbed vegetation. Although seed rain density was closely correlated with natural seedling establishment, the experimental seed addition showed that the microsite environment was even more important. For all species, seedling emergence peaked at the productive end of the gradient, irrespective of the adult niches realized. Disturbance promoted recruitment at all positions along the environmental gradient, not just at high productivity. Early seedling emergence constituted the main temporal bottleneck in recruitment for all species. Surprisingly, winter mortality was highest at what appeared to be the most benign end of the gradient. The results highlight that seedling recruitment patterns are largely determined by the earliest stages in seedling emergence, which again are closely linked to microsite quality. A fuller understanding of microsite effects on recruitment with implications for plant community assembly and vegetation change is provided.
Project description:<h4>Background</h4>The Janzen-Connell hypothesis proposes that seed and seedling enemies play a major role in maintaining high levels of tree diversity in tropical forests. However, human disturbance may alter guilds of seed predators including their body size distribution. These changes have the potential to affect seedling survival in logged forest and may alter forest composition and diversity.<h4>Methodology/principal findings</h4>We manipulated seed density in plots beneath con- and heterospecific adult trees within a logged forest and excluded vertebrate predators of different body sizes using cages. We show that small and large-bodied predators differed in their effect on con- and heterospecific seedling mortality. In combination small and large-bodied predators dramatically decreased both con- and heterospecific seedling survival. In contrast, when larger-bodied predators were excluded small-bodied predators reduced conspecific seed survival leaving seeds coming from the distant tree of a different species.<h4>Conclusions/significance</h4>Our results suggest that seed survival is affected differently by vertebrate predators according to their body size. Therefore, changes in the body size structure of the seed predator community in logged forests may change patterns of seed mortality and potentially affect recruitment and community composition.
Project description:Tree species distributions associated with rainfall are among the most prominent patterns in tropical forests. Understanding the mechanisms shaping these patterns is important to project impacts of global climate change on tree distributions and diversity in the tropics. Beside direct effects of water availability, additional factors co-varying with rainfall have been hypothesized to play an important role, including pest pressure and light availability. While low water availability is expected to exclude drought-intolerant wet forest species from drier forests (physiological tolerance hypothesis), high pest pressure or low light availability are hypothesized to exclude dry forest species from wetter forests (pest pressure gradient and light availability hypothesis, respectively). To test these hypotheses at the seed-to-seedling transition, the potentially most critical stage for species discrimination, we conducted a reciprocal transplant experiment combined with a pest exclosure treatment at a wet and a dry forest site in Panama with seeds of 26 species with contrasting origin. Establishment success after one year did not reflect species distribution patterns. However, in the wet forest, wet origin species had a home advantage over dry forest species through higher growth rates. At the same time, drought limited survival of wet origin species in the dry forest, supporting the physiological tolerance hypothesis. Together these processes sort species over longer time frames, and exclude species outside their respective home range. Although we found pronounced effects of pests and some effects of light availability on the seedlings, they did not corroborate the pest pressure nor light availability hypotheses at the seed-to-seedling transition. Our results underline that changes in water availability due to climate change will have direct consequences on tree regeneration and distributions along tropical rainfall gradients, while indirect effects of light and pests are less important.
Project description:Quantifying the relative importance of the multiple processes that limit recruitment may hold the key to understanding tropical tree diversity. Here we couple theoretical models with a large-scale, multi-species seed-sowing experiment to assess the degree to which seed and establishment limitation shape patterns of tropical tree seedling recruitment in a central African forest. Of five randomly selected species (Pancovia laurentii, Staudtia kamerunensis, Manilkara mabokeensis, Myrianthus arboreas, and Entandophragma utile), seedling establishment and survival were low (means of 16% and 6% at 3 and 24 months, respectively), and seedling density increased with seed augmentation. Seedling recruitment was best explained by species identity and the interaction of site-by-species, suggesting recruitment probabilities vary among species and sites, and supporting the role of niche-based mechanisms. Although seed augmentation enhanced initial seedling density, environmental filtering and post-establishment mortality strongly limited seedling recruitment. The relative importance of seed and establishment limitation changed with seed and seedling density and through time. The arrival of seeds most strongly affected local recruitment when seeds were nearly absent from a site (∼ 1 seed m(2)), but was also important when seeds arrived in extremely high densities, overwhelming niche-based mortality factors. The strength of seed limitation and density-independent mortality decreased significantly over time, while density-dependent mortality showed the opposite trend. The varying strengths of seed and establishment limitation as a function of juvenile density and time emphasize the need to evaluate their roles through later stages of a tree's life cycle.