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.
Rising global demands for food and biofuels are driving forest clearance in the tropics. Oil-palm expansion contributes to biodiversity declines and carbon emissions in Southeast Asia. However, the magnitudes of these impacts remain largely unquantified until now. We produce a 250-m spatial resolution map of closed canopy oil-palm plantations in the lowlands of Peninsular Malaysia (2 million ha), Borneo (2.4 million ha), and Sumatra (3.9 million ha). We demonstrate that 6% (or ≈880,000 ha) of tropical peatlands in the region had been converted to oil-palm plantations by the early 2000s. Conversion of peatswamp forests to oil palm led to biodiversity declines of 1% in Borneo (equivalent to four species of forest-dwelling birds), 3.4% in Sumatra (16 species), and 12.1% in Peninsular Malaysia (46 species). This land-use change also contributed to the loss of ≈140 million Mg of aboveground biomass carbon, and annual emissions of ≈4.6 million Mg of belowground carbon from peat oxidation. Additionally, the loss of peatswamp forests implies the loss of carbon sequestration service through peat accumulation, which amounts to ≈660,000 Mg of carbon annually. By 2010, 2.3 million ha of peatswamp forests were clear-felled, and currently occur as degraded lands. Reforestation of these clearings could enhance biodiversity by up to ≈20%, whereas oil-palm establishment would exacerbate species losses by up to ≈12%. To safeguard the region's biodiversity and carbon stocks, conservation and reforestation efforts should target Central Kalimantan, Riau, and West Kalimantan, which retain three-quarters (3.9 million ha) of the remaining peatswamp forests in Southeast Asia.
Differences in the density of conspecific tree individuals in response to environmental gradients are well documented for many tree species, but how such density differences are generated and maintained is poorly understood. We examined the segregation of six dipterocarp species among three soil types in the Pasoh tropical forest, Malaysia. We examined how individual performance and population dynamics changed across the soil types using 10-year demographic data to compare tree performance across soil types, and constructed population matrix models to analyze the population dynamics. Species showed only minor changes in mortality and juvenile growth across soil types, although recruitment differed greatly. Clear, interspecific demographic trade-offs between growth and mortality were found in all soil types. The relative trade-offs by a species did not differ substantially among the soil types. Population sizes were projected to remain stable in all soil types for all species with one exception. Our life-table response experiment demonstrated that the population dynamics of a species differed only subtly among soil types. Therefore, species with strong density differences across soil types do not necessarily differ greatly in their population dynamics across the soil types. In contrast, interspecific differences in population dynamics were large. The trade-off between mortality and growth led to a negative correlation between the contributions of mortality and growth to variations in the population growth rate (λ) and thus reduced their net contributions. Recruitment had little impact on the variation in λ. The combination of these factors resulted in little variation in λ among species.
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.
One of the main environmental threats in the tropics is selective logging, which has degraded large areas of forest. In southeast Asia, enrichment planting with seedlings of the dominant group of dipterocarp tree species aims to accelerate restoration of forest structure and functioning. The role of tree diversity in forest restoration is still unclear, but the 'insurance hypothesis' predicts that in temporally and spatially varying environments planting mixtures may stabilize functioning owing to differences in species traits and ecologies. To test for potential insurance effects, we analyse the patterns of seedling mortality and growth in monoculture and mixture plots over the first decade of the Sabah biodiversity experiment. Our results reveal the species differences required for potential insurance effects including a trade-off in which species with denser wood have lower growth rates but higher survival. This trade-off was consistent over time during the first decade, but growth and mortality varied spatially across our 500 ha experiment with species responding to changing conditions in different ways. Overall, average survival rates were extreme in monocultures than mixtures consistent with a potential insurance effect in which monocultures of poorly surviving species risk recruitment failure, whereas monocultures of species with high survival have rates of self-thinning that are potentially wasteful when seedling stocks are limited. Longer-term monitoring as species interactions strengthen will be needed to more comprehensively test to what degree mixtures of species spread risk and use limited seedling stocks more efficiently to increase diversity and restore ecosystem structure and functioning.
Defaunation is causing declines of large-seeded animal-dispersed trees in tropical forests worldwide, but whether and how these declines will affect carbon storage across this biome is unclear. Here we show, using a pan-tropical data set, that simulated declines of large-seeded animal-dispersed trees have contrasting effects on aboveground carbon stocks across Earth's tropical forests. In our simulations, African, American and South Asian forests, which have high proportions of animal-dispersed species, consistently show carbon losses (2-12%), but Southeast Asian and Australian forests, where there are more abiotically dispersed species, show little to no carbon losses or marginal gains (±1%). These patterns result primarily from changes in wood volume, and are underlain by consistent relationships in our empirical data (∼2,100 species), wherein, large-seeded animal-dispersed species are larger as adults than small-seeded animal-dispersed species, but are smaller than abiotically dispersed species. Thus, floristic differences and distinct dispersal mode-seed size-adult size combinations can drive contrasting regional responses to defaunation.
Different mechanisms have been proposed to explain how vertical and horizontal heterogeneity in light conditions enhances tree species coexistence in forest ecosystems. The foliage partitioning theory proposes that differentiation in vertical foliage distribution, caused by an interspecific variation in mortality-to-growth ratio, promotes stable coexistence. In contrast, successional niche theory posits that horizontal light heterogeneity, caused by gap dynamics, enhances species coexistence through an interspecific trade-off between growth rate and survival. To distinguish between these theories of species coexistence, we analyzed tree inventory data for 370 species from the 50-ha plot in Pasoh Forest Reserve, Malaysia. We used community-wide Bayesian models to quantify size-dependent growth rate and mortality of every species. We compared the observed size distributions and the projected distributions from size-dependent demographic rates. We found that the observed size distributions were not simply correlated with the rate of population increase but were related to demographic properties such as size growth rate and mortality. Species with low relative abundance of juveniles in size distribution showed high growth rate and low mortality at small tree sizes and low per-capita recruitment rate. Overall, our findings were in accordance with those predicted by foliage partitioning theory.
Difficult access to 40-m-tall emergent trees in tropical rainforests has resulted in a lack of data related to vertical variations in wood CO2 efflux, even though significant variations in wood CO2 efflux are an important source of errors when estimating whole-tree total wood CO2 efflux. This study aimed to clarify vertical variations in wood CO2 efflux for emergent trees and to document the impact of the variations on the whole-tree estimates of stem and branch CO2 efflux. First, we measured wood CO2 efflux and factors related to tree morphology and environment for seven live emergent trees of two dipterocarp species at four to seven heights of up to ∼ 40 m for each tree using ladders and a crane. No systematic tendencies in vertical variations were observed for all the trees. Wood CO2 efflux was not affected by stem and air temperature, stem diameter, stem height or stem growth. The ratios of wood CO2 efflux at the treetop to that at breast height were larger in emergent trees with relatively smaller diameters at breast height. Second, we compared whole-tree stem CO2 efflux estimates using vertical measurements with those based on solely breast height measurements. We found similar whole-tree stem CO2 efflux estimates regardless of the patterns of vertical variations in CO2 efflux because the surface area in the canopy, where wood CO2 efflux often differed from that at breast height, was very small compared with that at low stem heights, resulting in little effect of the vertical variations on the estimate. Additionally, whole-tree branch CO2 efflux estimates using measured wood CO2 efflux in the canopy were considerably different from those measured using only breast height measurements. Uncertainties in wood CO2 efflux in the canopy did not cause any bias in stem CO2 efflux scaling, but affected branch CO2 efflux.
This study was carried out during the period 1989-2011. The following areas were included: Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Climax tropical forest and anthropogenically transformed ecosystems, including those damaged by the chemical warfare program of the United States in Vietnam, were investigated. Some regularities in the structure dynamics and functioning of forests ecosystems under a tropical monsoon climate have been revealed. The principles of classification of tropical forests have been elaborated. The major results of investigation of the tropical monsoon forests in Vietnam are given.
With a focus on the Danum Valley area of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, this special issue has as its theme the future of tropical rainforests in a changing landscape and climate. The global environmental context to the issue is briefly given before the contents and rationale of the issue are summarized. Most of the papers are based on research carried out as part of the Royal Society South East Asia Rainforest Research Programme. The issue is divided into five sections: (i) the historical land-use and land management context; (ii) implications of land-use change for atmospheric chemistry and climate change; (iii) impacts of logging, forest fragmentation (particularly within an oil palm plantation landscape) and forest restoration on ecosystems and their functioning; (iv) the response and resilience of rainforest systems to climatic and land-use change; and (v) the scientific messages and policy implications arising from the research findings presented in the issue.
The recurrent patterns in the commonness and rarity of species in ecological communities--the relative species abundance--have puzzled ecologists for more than half a century. Here we show that the framework of the current neutral theory in ecology can easily be generalized to incorporate symmetric density dependence. We can calculate precisely the strength of the rare-species advantage that is needed to explain a given RSA distribution. Previously, we demonstrated that a mechanism of dispersal limitation also fits RSA data well. Here we compare fits of the dispersal and density-dependence mechanisms for empirical RSA data on tree species in six New and Old World tropical forests and show that both mechanisms offer sufficient and independent explanations. We suggest that RSA data cannot by themselves be used to discriminate among these explanations of RSA patterns--empirical studies will be required to determine whether RSA patterns are due to one or the other mechanism, or to some combination of both.
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.
The tropical forests of Borneo and Amazonia may each contain more tree species diversity in half a square kilometre than do all the temperate forests of Europe, North America, and Asia combined. Biologists have long been fascinated by this disparity, using it to investigate potential drivers of biodiversity. Latitudinal variation in many of these drivers is expected to create geographic differences in ecological and evolutionary processes, and evidence increasingly shows that tropical ecosystems have higher rates of diversification, clade origination, and clade dispersal. However, there is currently no evidence to link gradients in ecological processes within communities at a local scale directly to the geographic gradient in biodiversity. Here, we show geographic variation in the storage effect, an ecological mechanism that reduces the potential for competitive exclusion more strongly in the tropics than it does in temperate and boreal zones, decreasing the ratio of interspecific-to-intraspecific competition by 0.25% for each degree of latitude that an ecosystem is located closer to the Equator. Additionally, we find evidence that latitudinal variation in climate underpins these differences; longer growing seasons in the tropics reduce constraints on the seasonal timing of reproduction, permitting lower recruitment synchrony between species and thereby enhancing niche partitioning through the storage effect. Our results demonstrate that the strength of the storage effect, and therefore its impact on diversity within communities, varies latitudinally in association with climate. This finding highlights the importance of biotic interactions in shaping geographic diversity patterns, and emphasizes the need to understand the mechanisms underpinning ecological processes in greater detail than has previously been appreciated.
Tropical forests play a major role in the carbon cycle of the terrestrial biosphere. Recent field studies have provided detailed descriptions of the carbon cycle of mature tropical forests, but logged or secondary forests have received much less attention. Here, we report the first measures of total net primary productivity (NPP) and its allocation along a disturbance gradient from old-growth forests to moderately and heavily logged forests in Malaysian Borneo. We measured the main NPP components (woody, fine root and canopy NPP) in old-growth (n = 6) and logged (n = 5) 1 ha forest plots. Overall, the total NPP did not differ between old-growth and logged forest (13.5 ± 0.5 and 15.7 ± 1.5 Mg C ha-1 year-1 respectively). However, logged forests allocated significantly higher fraction into woody NPP at the expense of the canopy NPP (42% and 48% into woody and canopy NPP, respectively, in old-growth forest vs 66% and 23% in logged forest). When controlling for local stand structure, NPP in logged forest stands was 41% higher, and woody NPP was 150% higher than in old-growth stands with similar basal area, but this was offset by structure effects (higher gap frequency and absence of large trees in logged forest). This pattern was not driven by species turnover: the average woody NPP of all species groups within logged forest (pioneers, nonpioneers, species unique to logged plots and species shared with old-growth plots) was similar. Hence, below a threshold of very heavy disturbance, logged forests can exhibit higher NPP and higher allocation to wood; such shifts in carbon cycling persist for decades after the logging event. Given that the majority of tropical forest biome has experienced some degree of logging, our results demonstrate that logging can cause substantial shifts in carbon production and allocation in tropical forests.
Precise estimation of root biomass is important for understanding carbon stocks and dynamics in forests. Traditionally, biomass estimates are based on allometric scaling relationships between stem diameter and coarse root biomass calculated using linear regression (LR) on log-transformed data. Recently, it has been suggested that nonlinear regression (NLR) is a preferable fitting method for scaling relationships. But while this claim has been contested on both theoretical and empirical grounds, and statistical methods have been developed to aid in choosing between the two methods in particular cases, few studies have examined the ramifications of erroneously applying NLR. Here, we use direct measurements of 159 trees belonging to three locally dominant species in east China to compare the LR and NLR models of diameter-root biomass allometry. We then contrast model predictions by estimating stand coarse root biomass based on census data from the nearby 24-ha Gutianshan forest plot and by testing the ability of the models to predict known root biomass values measured on multiple tropical species at the Pasoh Forest Reserve in Malaysia. Based on likelihood estimates for model error distributions, as well as the accuracy of extrapolative predictions, we find that LR on log-transformed data is superior to NLR for fitting diameter-root biomass scaling models. More importantly, inappropriately using NLR leads to grossly inaccurate stand biomass estimates, especially for stands dominated by smaller trees.
The world's tropical rainforests are decreasing at an alarming rate as they are converted to agricultural land, pasture, and plantations. Decreasing tropical forests affect global warming. As a result, afforestation progams have been suggested to mitigate this problem. The objective of this study was to determine the carbon and phosphorus accumulation of a rehabilitated forest of different ages. The size of the study area was 47.5 ha. Soil samples were collected from the 0-, 6-, 12-, and 17-year-old rehabilitated forest. Twenty samples were taken randomly with a soil auger at depths of 0-20 and 20-40 cm. The procedures outlined in the Materials and Methods section were used to analyze the soil samples for pH, total C, organic matter, total P, C/P ratio, yield of humic acid (HA), and cation exchange capacity (CEC). The soil pH decreased significantly with increasing age of forest rehabilitation regardless of depth. Age did not affect CEC of the rehabilitated forest. Soil organic matter (SOM), total C, and total P contents increased with age. However, C/P ratio decreased with time at 0-20 cm. Accumulation of HA with time and soil depth was not consistent. The rehabilitated forest has shown signs of being a C and P sink.
One of the available tools for mapping the geographical distribution and potential suitable habitats is species distribution models. These techniques are very helpful for finding poorly known distributions of species in poorly sampled areas, such as the tropics. Maximum Entropy (MaxEnt) is a recently developed modeling method that can be successfully calibrated using a relatively small number of records. In this research, the MaxEnt model was applied to describe the distribution and identify the key factors shaping the potential distribution of the vulnerable Malayan Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus) in one of the main remaining habitats in Peninsular Malaysia. MaxEnt results showed that even though Malaysian sun bear habitat is tied with tropical evergreen forests, it lives in a marginal threshold of bio-climatic variables. On the other hand, current protected area networks within Peninsular Malaysia do not cover most of the sun bears potential suitable habitats. Assuming that the predicted suitability map covers sun bears actual distribution, future climate change, forest degradation and illegal hunting could potentially severely affect the sun bear's population.
To clarify characteristics of carbon (C) allocation in a Bornean tropical rainforest without dry seasons, gross primary production (GPP) and C allocation, i.e., above-ground net primary production (ANPP), aboveground plant respiration (APR), and total below-ground carbon flux (TBCF) for the forest were examined and compared with those from Amazonian tropical rainforests with dry seasons. GPP (30.61 MgC ha(-1) year(-1), eddy covariance measurements; 34.40 MgC ha(-1) year(-1), biometric measurements) was comparable to those for Amazonian rainforests. ANPP (6.76 MgC ha(-1) year(-1)) was comparable to, and APR (8.01 MgC ha(-1) year(-1)) was slightly lower than, their respective values for Amazonian rainforests, even though aboveground biomass was greater at our site. TBCF (19.63 MgC ha(-1) year(-1)) was higher than those for Amazonian forests. The comparable ANPP and higher TBCF were unexpected, since higher water availability would suggest less fine root competition for water, giving higher ANPP and lower TBCF to GPP. Low nutrient availability may explain the comparable ANPP and higher TBCF. These data show that there are variations in C allocation patterns among mature tropical rainforests, and the variations cannot be explained solely by differences in soil water availability.
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.
Allometry of shoot extension units (hereafter termed "current shoots") was analyzed in a Malaysian canopy species, Elateriospermum tapos Bl. (Euphorbiaceae). Changes in current shoot allometry with increasing tree height were related to growth and maintenance of tree crowns. Total biomass, biomass allocation ratio of non-photosynthetic to photosynthetic organs, and wood density of current shoots were unrelated to tree height. However, shoot structure changed with tree height. Compared with short trees, tall trees produced current shoots of the same mass but with thicker and shorter stems. Current shoots with thin and long stems enhanced height growth in short trees, whereas in tall trees, thick and short current shoots may reduce mechanical and hydraulic stresses. Furthermore, compared with short trees, tall trees produced current shoots with more leaves of lower dry mass, smaller area, and smaller specific leaf area (SLA). Short trees adapted to low light flux density by reducing mutual shading with large leaves having a large SLA. In contrast, tall trees reduced mutual shading within a shoot by producing more small leaves in distal than in proximal parts of the shoot stem. The production of a large number of small leaves promoted light penetration into the dense crowns of tall trees. All of these characteristics suggest that the change in current shoot structure with increasing tree height is adaptive in E. tapos, enabling short trees to maximize height growth and tall trees to maximize light capture.