Autogenic regulation and resilience in tropical dry forest



1. Engineering resilience, a forest’s ability to maintain its properties in the event of disturbance, comprises two components: resistance and recovery. In human-dominated landscapes, forest resilience depends mostly on recovery. Forest recovery largely depends on autogenic regulation, which entails a negative feedback loop between rates of change of forest state variables and state variables themselves. Hence community dynamics changes in response to deviations from forest equilibrium state. Based on the premise that autogenic regulation is a key aspect of the recovery process, here we tested the hypothesis that combined old-growth forest (OGF) and secondary forest (SF) dynamics should show autogenic regulation in state variables, and thus convergence towards OGF-based reference points, indicating forest resilience. 2. We integrated dynamic data for OGF (11-year monitoring) and SF (16-year monitoring) to analyse three key state variables (basal area, tree density, species richness), their annual rates of change, and their underlying demographic processes (recruitment, growth, mortality). We examined autogenic regulation through generalized linear mixed-effects models (GLMMs) to quantify functional relationships between rates of change of state variables (and underlying demographic processes), and their respective state variables. 3. State variables in OGF decreased moderately over time, against our prediction of OGF constancy. In turn, the three state variables analysed showed negative relationships with their respective rates of change, which allows the return of SF to OGF values after disturbance. In all cases, recruitment decreased with increasing values in state variables, while mortality increased. 4. The observed negative relationships between state variables, their rates of change and their underlying demographic processes support our hypothesis of integrated OGF and SF dynamics showing autogenic regulation for state variables. Competition seems to be a major driver of autogenic regulation given its dependence on a resource availability that declines as forest structure develops. 5. Synthesis. Based on a straightforward and comprehensive approach to quantify the extent to which tropical forest dynamics is self-regulated, this study highlights the role of autogenic regulation in tropical dry forest as a basic component of its resilience. This approach is potentially valuable for a generalised assessment of engineering resilience of forests worldwide.
Date made available9 Jul 2021
PublisherWageningen University & Research


  • Biological sciences
  • Autogenic regulation
  • Community dynamics
  • constancy
  • demographic processes
  • recovery
  • State variables

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