Abiotic and biotic filters may play differential roles in the plant community organization along forest succession in abandoned fields. However, little is known about how life stage-specific filters influence species replacement during succession. We approach this issue by analyzing changes in community attributes (abundance, species density, species diversity, species composition) and the phylogenetic structure of shrubs and trees at different life stages during the old-field succession of a seasonally tropical dry forest (TDF) in Western Mexico. We raised two main questions: (1) How different are the trajectories of change in community attributes and phylogenetic structure along succession for shrub and tree species at different life-stages? (2) Do different stage-specific trajectories result from differential filtering mechanisms? We used a chronosequence of abandoned pastures and forest sites, classified in five successional categories (with three sites each): Pasture (< 1.5 years fallow age), Early (3.5–5.5 y), Mid (6–8 y), Advanced (13–15 y), and Old-Growth Forest. Identity and abundance of species were recorded at five life stages: seeds in the top soil layer, seedlings (plants emerged from seeds, 10–100 cm height), resprouts (plants emerging from buds in roots or stumps, 10–100 cm height), juvenile [shrubs and trees > 100 cm height and < 2.5 cm diameter at breast height (DBH)], adults (shrubs and trees with DBH ≥ 2.5 cm). Additionally, we quantified the phylogenetic mean parwise distance (MPD) among species, and analyzed the phylogenetic community structure, for each successional category and life stage. We found that early in succession the resprout stage was more abundant and diverse than the seedling stage, while the inverse occurred late in succession. Along the first 15 years of succession, the seedling stage showed a clumped phylogenetic structure (with a strong dominance of legume species), while the resprout stage tended to have an overdispersed one (with species from a wide range of clades). Also, community attributes of the juvenile and adult stages approached those of the old-growth forest, and in both stages the phylogenetic structure changed from clustered to random. Overall, our results suggest that the assembly of shrub and trees communities along succession resulted from a combination of abiotic filtering processes, operating mostly on seedlings (selecting primarily legume drought-tolerant species), and biotic filtering processes, operating mostly in resprouts (generating a taxonomic and phylogenetically diverse regenerative pool). The implications of these results for the management of secondary TDF in human modified landscapes are discussed.
- Assembly mechanisms
- Drought tolerance
- Forest regeneration and management
- Phylogenetic structure and diversity
- Species replacement