Wet and dry tropical forests show opposite successional pathways in wood density but converge over time

Lourens Poorter*, Danaë M. A. Rozendaal, Frans Bongers, Jarcilene S. de Almeida-Cortez, Angélica María Almeyda Zambrano, Francisco S. Álvarez, José Luís Andrade, Luis Felipe Arreola Villa, Patricia Balvanera, Justin M. Becknell, Tony V. Bentos, Radika Bhaskar, Vanessa Boukili, Pedro H. S. Brancalion, Eben N. Broadbent, Ricardo G. César, Jerome Chave, Robin L. Chazdon, Gabriel Dalla Colletta, Dylan CravenBen H. J. de Jong, Julie S. Denslow, Daisy H. Dent, Saara J. DeWalt, Elisa Díaz García, Juan Manuel Dupuy, Sandra M. Durán, Mário M. Espírito Santo, María C. Fandiño, Geraldo Wilson Fernandes, Bryan Finegan, Vanessa Granda Moser, Jefferson S. Hall, José Luis Hernández-Stefanoni, Catarina C. Jakovac, André B. Junqueira, Deborah Kennard, Edwin Lebrija-Trejos, Susan G. Letcher, Madelon Lohbeck, Omar R. Lopez, Erika Marín-Spiotta, Miguel Martínez-Ramos, Sebastião V. Martins, Paulo E. S. Massoca, Jorge A. Meave, Rita Mesquita, Francisco Mora, Vanessa de Souza Moreno, Sandra C. Müller, Rodrigo Muñoz, Robert Muscarella, Silvio Nolasco de Oliveira Neto, Yule R. F. Nunes, Susana Ochoa-Gaona, Horacio Paz, Marielos Peña-Claros, Daniel Piotto, Jorge Ruíz, Lucía Sanaphre-Villanueva, Arturo Sanchez-Azofeifa, Naomi B. Schwartz, Marc K. Steininger, William Wayt Thomas, Marisol Toledo, Maria Uriarte, Luis P. Utrera, Michiel van Breugel, Masha T. van der Sande, Hans van der Wal, Maria D. M. Veloso, Hans F. M. Vester, Ima C. G. Vieira, Pedro Manuel Villa, G. Bruce Williamson, S. Joseph Wright, Kátia J. Zanini, Jess K. Zimmerman, Mark Westoby

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    87 Citations (Scopus)
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    Tropical forests are converted at an alarming rate for agricultural use and pastureland, but also regrow naturally through secondary succession. For successful forest restoration, it is essential to understand the mechanisms of secondary succession. These mechanisms may vary across forest types, but analyses across broad spatial scales are lacking. Here, we analyse forest recovery using 1,403 plots that differ in age since agricultural abandonment from 50 sites across the Neotropics. We analyse changes in community composition using species-specific stem wood density (WD), which is a key trait for plant growth, survival and forest carbon storage. In wet forest, succession proceeds from low towards high community WD (acquisitive towards conservative trait values), in line with standard successional theory. However, in dry forest, succession proceeds from high towards low community WD (conservative towards acquisitive trait values), probably because high WD reflects drought tolerance in harsh early successional environments. Dry season intensity drives WD recovery by influencing the start and trajectory of succession, resulting in convergence of the community WD over time as vegetation cover builds up. These ecological insights can be used to improve species selection for reforestation. Reforestation species selected to establish a first protective canopy layer should, among other criteria, ideally have a similar WD to the early successional communities that dominate under the prevailing macroclimatic conditions.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)928–934
    Number of pages7
    JournalNature Ecology and Evolution
    Issue number6
    Early online date22 Apr 2019
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019


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