Dynamics of the Pasoh forest in Peninsular Malaysia were assessed by drawing a comparison with a forest in Panama, Central America, whose dynamics have been thoroughly described. Census plots of 50 ha were established at both sites using standard methods. Tree mortality at Pasoh over an eight-year interval was 1.46% yr(-1) for all stems > or = 10 mm diameter at breast height (dbh), and 1.48% yr(-1) for stems > or = 100 mm dbh. Comparable figures at the Barro Colorado Island site in Panama (BCI) were 2.55% and 2.03%. Growth and recruitment rates were likewise considerably higher at BCI than at Pasoh. For example, in all trees 500-700 mm in dbh, mean BCI growth over the period 1985-1995 was 6 mm yr(-1), whereas mean Pasoh growth was about 3.5 mm yr(-1). Examining growth and mortality rates for individual species showed that the difference between the forests can be attributed to a few light-demanding pioneer species at BCI, which have very high growth and mortality; Pasoh is essentially lacking this guild. The bulk of the species in the two forests are shade-tolerant and have very similar mortality, growth and recruitment. The Pasoh forest is more stable than BCI's in another way as well: few of its tree populations changed much over the eight-year census interval. In contrast, at BCI, over 10% of the species had populations increasing or decreasing at a rate of >0.05 yr(-1) compared to just 2% of the species at Pasoh). The faster species turnover at BCI can probably be attributed to severe droughts that have plagued the forest periodically over the past 30 years; Pasoh has not suffered such extreme events recently. The dearth of pioneer species at Pasoh is associated with low-nutrient soil and slow litter breakdown, but the exact mechanisms behind this association remain poorly understood.
Fully mapped tree census plots of large area, 25 to 52 hectares, have now been completed at six different sites in tropical forests, including dry deciduous to wet evergreen forest on two continents. One of the main goals of these plots has been to evaluate spatial patterns in tropical tree populations. Here the degree of aggregation in the distribution of 1768 tree species is examined based on the average density of conspecific trees in circular neighborhoods around each tree. When all individuals larger than 1 centimeter in stem diameter were included, nearly every species was more aggregated than a random distribution. Considering only larger trees (>/= 10 centimeters in diameter), the pattern persisted, with most species being more aggregated than random. Rare species were more aggregated than common species. All six forests were very similar in all the particulars of these results.
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.