Pathways, mechanisms and predictability of vegetation change during tropical dry forest succession

E.E. Lebrija Trejos, J. Meave, L. Poorter, E.A. Pérez- García, F. Bongers

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85 Citations (Scopus)


The development of forest succession theory has been based on studies in temperate and tropical wet forests. As rates and pathways of succession vary with the environment, advances in successional theory and study approaches are challenged by controversies derived from such variation and by the scarcity of studies in other ecosystems. During five years, we studied development pathways and dynamics in a chronosequence spanning from very early to late successional stages (ca. 1–60 years) in a tropical dry forest of Mexico. We (1) contrasted dynamic pathways of change in structure, diversity, and species composition with static, chronosequence-based trends, (2) examined how structure and successional dynamics of guilds of trees shape community change, and (3) assessed the predictability of succession in this system. Forest diversity and structure increased with time but tree density stabilized early in succession. Dynamic pathways matched chronosequence trends. Succession consisted of two tree-dominated phases characterized by the development and dynamics of a pioneer and a mature forest species guild, respectively. Pioneer species dominated early recruitment (until ca. 10 years after abandonment), and declined before slower growing mature-forest species became dominant or reached maximum development rates (after 40–45 years). Pioneers promoted their replacement early in succession, while mature-forest species recruited and grew constantly throughout the process, with their lowest mortality coinciding with the peak of pioneer abundance. In contrast to prevailing stochastic views, we observed an orderly, community driven series of changes in this dry forest secondary succession. Chronosequences thus represent a valuable approach for revealing system-specific successional pathways, formulating hypotheses on causes and mechanisms and, in combination with repeated sampling, evaluating the effects of vegetation dynamics in pathway variation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)267-275
JournalPerspectives in plant ecology, evolution and systematics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • intermediate disturbance hypothesis
  • rain-forests
  • secondary forests
  • species composition
  • plant-communities
  • central amazonia
  • dynamics
  • competition
  • diversity
  • chronosequence

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