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.
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.
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.