Drought and pests are primary abiotic and biotic factors proposed as selective filters acting on species distributions along rainfall gradients in tropical forests and may contribute importantly to species distributional limits, performance, and diversity gradients. Recent research demonstrates linkages between species distributions along rainfall gradients and physiological drought tolerance; corresponding experimental examinations of the contribution of pest pressure to distributional limits and potential interactions between drought and herbivory are limited. This study aims to quantitate differential performance and herbivory as a function of species range limits across a climatic and floristic transition in Southeast Asia. Khao Chong Botanical Garden, Thailand and Pasoh Forest Reserve, Malaysia straddle the Kangar-Pattani Line. A reciprocal transplantation across a seasonality gradient was established using two groups of species ("widespread" taxa whose distributions include seasonally dry forests and "aseasonal" taxa whose distributions are limited to aseasonal forests). Growth, biomass allocation, survival, and herbivory were monitored for 19 months. Systematic differences in performance were a function of species distribution in relation to rainfall seasonality. In aseasonal Pasoh, aseasonal species had both greater growth and survivorship than widespread species. These differences were not a function of differential herbivory as widespread and aseasonal species experienced similar damage in the aseasonal forest. In seasonally dry Khao Chong, widespread species showed higher survivorship than aseasonal species, but these differences were only apparent during drought. We link this differential performance to physiological mechanisms as well as differential tolerance of biotic pressure during drought stress. Systematic decreases in seedling survival in aseasonal taxa during drought corresponded with previously documented physiological differences and may be exacerbated by herbivore damage. These results have important implications for tropical diversity and community composition in light of predicted increases in the frequency and severity of drought in hyperdiverse tropical forests.
We investigate the geographical and historical context of diversification in a complex of mutualistic Crematogaster ants living in Macaranga trees in the equatorial rain forests of Southeast Asia. Using mitochondrial DNA from 433 ant colonies collected from 32 locations spanning Borneo, Malaya and Sumatra, we infer branching relationships, patterns of genetic diversity and population history. We reconstruct a time frame for the ants' diversification and demographic expansions, and identify areas that might have been refugia or centres of diversification. Seventeen operational lineages are identified, most of which can be distinguished by host preference and geographical range. The ants first diversified 16-20 Ma, not long after the onset of the everwet forests in Sundaland, and achieved most of their taxonomic diversity during the Pliocene. Pleistocene demographic expansions are inferred for several of the younger lineages. Phylogenetic relationships suggest a Bornean cradle and major axis of diversification. Taxonomic diversity tends to be associated with mountain ranges; in Borneo, it is greatest in the Crocker Range of Sabah and concentrated also in other parts of the northern northwest coast. Within-lineage genetic diversity in Malaya and Sumatra tends to also coincide with mountain ranges. A series of disjunct and restricted distributions spanning northern northwest Borneo and the major mountain ranges of Malaya and Sumatra, seen in three pairs of sister lineages, further suggests that these regions were rain-forest refuges during drier climatic phases of the Pleistocene. Results are discussed in the context of the history of Sundaland's rain forests.
We investigate the evolution of host association in a cryptic complex of mutualistic Crematogaster (Decacrema) ants that inhabits and defends Macaranga trees in Southeast Asia. Previous phylogenetic studies based on limited samplings of Decacrema present conflicting reconstructions of the evolutionary history of the association, inferring both cospeciation and the predominance of host shifts. We use cytochrome oxidase I (COI) to reconstruct phylogenetic relationships in a comprehensive sampling of the Decacrema inhabitants of Macaranga. Using a published Macaranga phylogeny, we test whether the ants and plants have cospeciated. The COI phylogeny reveals 10 well-supported lineages and an absence of cospeciation. Host shifts, however, have been constrained by stem traits that are themselves correlated with Macaranga phylogeny. Earlier lineages of Decacrema exclusively inhabit waxy stems, a basal state in the Pachystemon clade within Macaranga, whereas younger species of Pachystemon, characterized by nonwaxy stems, are inhabited only by younger lineages of Decacrema. Despite the absence of cospeciation, the correlated succession of stem texture in both phylogenies suggests that Decacrema and Pachystemon have diversified in association, or codiversified. Subsequent to the colonization of the Pachystemon clade, Decacrema expanded onto a second clade within Macaranga, inducing the development of myrmecophytism in the Pruinosae group. Confinement to the aseasonal wet climate zone of western Malesia suggests myrmecophytic Macaranga are no older than the wet forest community in Southeast Asia, estimated to be about 20 million years old (early Miocene). Our calculation of COI divergence rates from several published arthropod studies that relied on tenable calibrations indicates a generally conserved rate of approximately 1.5% per million years. Applying this rate to a rate-smoothed Bayesian chronogram of the ants, the Decacrema from Macaranga are inferred to be at least 12 million years old (mid-Miocene). However, using the extremes of rate variation in COI produces an age as recent as 6 million years. Our inferred timeline based on 1.5% per million years concurs with independent biogeographical events in the region reconstructed from palynological data, thus suggesting that the evolutionary histories of Decacrema and their Pachystemon hosts have been contemporaneous since the mid-Miocene. The evolution of myrmecophytism enabled Macaranga to radiate into enemy-free space, while the ants' diversification has been shaped by stem traits, host specialization, and geographic factors. We discuss the possibility that the ancient and exclusive association between Decacrema and Macaranga was facilitated by an impoverished diversity of myrmecophytes and phytoecious (obligately plant inhabiting) ants in the region.
What causes individual tree death in tropical forests remains a major gap in our understanding of the biology of tropical trees and leads to significant uncertainty in predicting global carbon cycle dynamics. We measured individual characteristics (diameter at breast height, wood density, growth rate, crown illumination and crown form) and environmental conditions (soil fertility and habitat suitability) for 26 425 trees ≥ 10 cm diameter at breast height belonging to 416 species in a 52-ha plot in Lambir Hills National Park, Malaysia. We used structural equation models to investigate the relationships among the different factors and tree mortality. Crown form (a proxy for mechanical damage and other stresses) and prior growth were the two most important factors related to mortality. The effect of all variables on mortality (except habitat suitability) was substantially greater than expected by chance. Tree death is the result of interactions between factors, including direct and indirect effects. Crown form/damage and prior growth mediated most of the effect of tree size, wood density, fertility and habitat suitability on mortality. Large-scale assessment of crown form or status may result in improved prediction of individual tree death at the landscape scale.
The impacts of global change on tropical forests remain poorly understood. We examined changes in tree growth rates over the past two decades for all species occurring in large (50-ha) forest dynamics plots in Panama and Malaysia. Stem growth rates declined significantly at both forests regardless of initial size or organizational level (species, community or stand). Decreasing growth rates were widespread, occurring in 24-71% of species at Barro Colorado Island, Panama (BCI) and in 58-95% of species at Pasoh, Malaysia (depending on the sizes of stems included). Changes in growth were not consistently associated with initial growth rate, adult stature, or wood density. Changes in growth were significantly associated with regional climate changes: at both sites growth was negatively correlated with annual mean daily minimum temperatures, and at BCI growth was positively correlated with annual precipitation and number of rainfree days (a measure of relative insolation). While the underlying cause(s) of decelerating growth is still unresolved, these patterns strongly contradict the hypothesized pantropical increase in tree growth rates caused by carbon fertilization. Decelerating tree growth will have important economic and environmental implications.
Dispersal-assembly theories of species coexistence posit that environmental factors play no role in explaining community diversity and structure. Dispersal-assembly theories shed light on some aspects of community structure such as species-area and species-abundance relationships. However, species' environmental associations also affect these measures of community structure. Measurements of species' niche breadth and overlap address this influence. Using a new continuous measure of niche and a dispersal-assembly null model that maintains species' niche breadth and aggregation, we tested two hypotheses assessing the effects of habitat heterogeneity on the ability of dispersal-assembly theories to explain community niche structure. We found that in both homogenous and heterogeneous environments dispersal-assembly theories cannot fully explain observed niche structure. The performance of the dispersal-assembly null models was particularly poor in heterogeneous environments. These results indicate that non-dispersal based mechanisms are in part responsible for observed community structure and measures of community structure which include species' environmental associations should be used to test theories of species diversity.
The response of tropical forests to global climate variability and change remains poorly understood. Results from long-term studies of permanent forest plots have reported different, and in some cases opposing trends in tropical forest dynamics. In this study, we examined changes in tree growth rates at four long-term permanent tropical forest research plots in relation to variation in solar radiation, temperature and precipitation. Temporal variation in the stand-level growth rates measured at five-year intervals was found to be positively correlated with variation in incoming solar radiation and negatively related to temporal variation in night-time temperatures. Taken alone, neither solar radiation variability nor the effects of night-time temperatures can account for the observed temporal variation in tree growth rates across sites, but when considered together, these two climate variables account for most of the observed temporal variability in tree growth rates. Further analysis indicates that the stand-level response is primarily driven by the responses of smaller-sized trees (less than 20 cm in diameter). The combined temperature and radiation responses identified in this study provide a potential explanation for the conflicting patterns in tree growth rates found in previous studies.
The responses of tropical forests to global anthropogenic disturbances remain poorly understood. Above-ground woody biomass in some tropical forest plots has increased over the past several decades, potentially reflecting a widespread response to increased resource availability, for example, due to elevated atmospheric CO2 and/or nutrient deposition. However, previous studies of biomass dynamics have not accounted for natural patterns of disturbance and gap phase regeneration, making it difficult to quantify the importance of environmental changes. Using spatially explicit census data from large (50 ha) inventory plots, we investigated the influence of gap phase processes on the biomass dynamics of four 'old-growth' tropical forests (Barro Colorado Island (BCI), Panama; Pasoh and Lambir, Malaysia; and Huai Kha Khaeng (HKK), Thailand). We show that biomass increases were gradual and concentrated in earlier-phase forest patches, while biomass losses were generally of greater magnitude but concentrated in rarer later-phase patches. We then estimate the rate of biomass change at each site independent of gap phase dynamics using reduced major axis regressions and ANCOVA tests. Above-ground woody biomass increased significantly at Pasoh (+0.72% yr(-1)) and decreased at HKK (-0.56% yr(-1)) independent of changes in gap phase but remained stable at both BCI and Lambir. We conclude that gap phase processes play an important role in the biomass dynamics of tropical forests, and that quantifying the role of gap phase processes will help improve our understanding of the factors driving changes in forest biomass as well as their place in the global carbon budget.
While the importance of local-scale habitat niches in shaping tree species turnover along environmental gradients in tropical forests is well appreciated, relatively little is known about the influence of phylogenetic signal in species' habitat niches in shaping local community structure. We used detailed maps of the soil resource and topographic variation within eight 24-50 ha tropical forest plots combined with species phylogenies created from the APG III phylogeny to examine how phylogenetic beta diversity (indicating the degree of phylogenetic similarity of two communities) was related to environmental gradients within tropical tree communities. Using distance-based redundancy analysis we found that phylogenetic beta diversity, expressed as either nearest neighbor distance or mean pairwise distance, was significantly related to both soil and topographic variation in all study sites. In general, more phylogenetic beta diversity within a forest plot was explained by environmental variables this was expressed as nearest neighbor distance versus mean pairwise distance (3.0-10.3 % and 0.4-8.8 % of variation explained among plots, respectively), and more variation was explained by soil resource variables than topographic variables using either phylogenetic beta diversity metric. We also found that patterns of phylogenetic beta diversity expressed as nearest neighbor distance were consistent with previously observed patterns of niche similarity among congeneric species pairs in these plots. These results indicate the importance of phylogenetic signal in local habitat niches in shaping the phylogenetic structure of tropical tree communities, especially at the level of close phylogenetic neighbors, where similarity in habitat niches is most strongly preserved.
Forests are major components of the global carbon cycle, providing substantial feedback to atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. Our ability to understand and predict changes in the forest carbon cycle--particularly net primary productivity and carbon storage--increasingly relies on models that represent biological processes across several scales of biological organization, from tree leaves to forest stands. Yet, despite advances in our understanding of productivity at the scales of leaves and stands, no consensus exists about the nature of productivity at the scale of the individual tree, in part because we lack a broad empirical assessment of whether rates of absolute tree mass growth (and thus carbon accumulation) decrease, remain constant, or increase as trees increase in size and age. Here we present a global analysis of 403 tropical and temperate tree species, showing that for most species mass growth rate increases continuously with tree size. Thus, large, old trees do not act simply as senescent carbon reservoirs but actively fix large amounts of carbon compared to smaller trees; at the extreme, a single big tree can add the same amount of carbon to the forest within a year as is contained in an entire mid-sized tree. The apparent paradoxes of individual tree growth increasing with tree size despite declining leaf-level and stand-level productivity can be explained, respectively, by increases in a tree's total leaf area that outpace declines in productivity per unit of leaf area and, among other factors, age-related reductions in population density. Our results resolve conflicting assumptions about the nature of tree growth, inform efforts to undertand and model forest carbon dynamics, and have additional implications for theories of resource allocation and plant senescence.
In Amazonian tropical forests, recent studies have reported increases in aboveground biomass and in primary productivity, as well as shifts in plant species composition favouring fast-growing species over slow-growing ones. This pervasive alteration of mature tropical forests was attributed to global environmental change, such as an increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration, nutrient deposition, temperature, drought frequency, and/or irradiance. We used standardized, repeated measurements of over 2 million trees in ten large (16-52 ha each) forest plots on three continents to evaluate the generality of these findings across tropical forests. Aboveground biomass increased at seven of our ten plots, significantly so at four plots, and showed a large decrease at a single plot. Carbon accumulation pooled across sites was significant (+0.24 MgC ha(-1) y(-1), 95% confidence intervals [0.07, 0.39] MgC ha(-1) y(-1)), but lower than reported previously for Amazonia. At three sites for which we had data for multiple census intervals, we found no concerted increase in biomass gain, in conflict with the increased productivity hypothesis. Over all ten plots, the fastest-growing quartile of species gained biomass (+0.33 [0.09, 0.55] % y(-1)) compared with the tree community as a whole (+0.15 % y(-1)); however, this significant trend was due to a single plot. Biomass of slow-growing species increased significantly when calculated over all plots (+0.21 [0.02, 0.37] % y(-1)), and in half of our plots when calculated individually. Our results do not support the hypothesis that fast-growing species are consistently increasing in dominance in tropical tree communities. Instead, they suggest that our plots may be simultaneously recovering from past disturbances and affected by changes in resource availability. More long-term studies are necessary to clarify the contribution of global change to the functioning of tropical forests.
Survival rates of large trees determine forest biomass dynamics. Survival rates of small trees have been linked to mechanisms that maintain biodiversity across tropical forests. How species survival rates change with size offers insight into the links between biodiversity and ecosystem function across tropical forests. We tested patterns of size-dependent tree survival across the tropics using data from 1,781 species and over 2 million individuals to assess whether tropical forests can be characterized by size-dependent life-history survival strategies. We found that species were classifiable into four 'survival modes' that explain life-history variation that shapes carbon cycling and the relative abundance within forests. Frequently collected functional traits, such as wood density, leaf mass per area and seed mass, were not generally predictive of the survival modes of species. Mean annual temperature and cumulative water deficit predicted the proportion of biomass of survival modes, indicating important links between evolutionary strategies, climate and carbon cycling. The application of survival modes in demographic simulations predicted biomass change across forest sites. Our results reveal globally identifiable size-dependent survival strategies that differ across diverse systems in a consistent way. The abundance of survival modes and interaction with climate ultimately determine forest structure, carbon storage in biomass and future forest trajectories.
Less than half of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions remain in the atmosphere. While carbon balance models imply large carbon uptake in tropical forests, direct on-the-ground observations are still lacking in Southeast Asia. Here, using long-term plot monitoring records of up to half a century, we find that intact forests in Borneo gained 0.43 Mg C ha-1 per year (95% CI 0.14-0.72, mean period 1988-2010) above-ground live biomass. These results closely match those from African and Amazonian plot networks, suggesting that the world's remaining intact tropical forests are now en masse out-of-equilibrium. Although both pan-tropical and long-term, the sink in remaining intact forests appears vulnerable to climate and land use changes. Across Borneo the 1997-1998 El Niño drought temporarily halted the carbon sink by increasing tree mortality, while fragmentation persistently offset the sink and turned many edge-affected forests into a carbon source to the atmosphere.
The original version of this Article contained an error in the third sentence of the abstract and incorrectly read "Here, using long-term plot monitoring records of up to half a century, we find that intact forests in Borneo gained 0.43 Mg C ha-1 year-1 (95% CI 0.14-0.72, mean period 1988-2010) above-ground live biomass", rather than the correct "Here, using long-term plot monitoring records of up to half a century, we find that intact forests in Borneo gained 0.43 Mg C ha-1 year-1 (95% CI 0.14-0.72, mean period 1988-2010) in above-ground live biomass carbon". This has now been corrected in both the PDF and HTML versions of the Article.
Tropical forests are global centres of biodiversity and carbon storage. Many tropical countries aspire to protect forest to fulfil biodiversity and climate mitigation policy targets, but the conservation strategies needed to achieve these two functions depend critically on the tropical forest tree diversity-carbon storage relationship. Assessing this relationship is challenging due to the scarcity of inventories where carbon stocks in aboveground biomass and species identifications have been simultaneously and robustly quantified. Here, we compile a unique pan-tropical dataset of 360 plots located in structurally intact old-growth closed-canopy forest, surveyed using standardised methods, allowing a multi-scale evaluation of diversity-carbon relationships in tropical forests. Diversity-carbon relationships among all plots at 1 ha scale across the tropics are absent, and within continents are either weak (Asia) or absent (Amazonia, Africa). A weak positive relationship is detectable within 1 ha plots, indicating that diversity effects in tropical forests may be scale dependent. The absence of clear diversity-carbon relationships at scales relevant to conservation planning means that carbon-centred conservation strategies will inevitably miss many high diversity ecosystems. As tropical forests can have any combination of tree diversity and carbon stocks both require explicit consideration when optimising policies to manage tropical carbon and biodiversity.