Rates of change in tree communities of secondary Neotropical forests following major disturbances

R.L. Chazdon, S.G. Letcher, M. van Breugel, M. Martínez-Ramos, F.J.J.M. Bongers, B. Finegan

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338 Citations (Scopus)


Rates of change in tree communities following major disturbances are determined by a complex set of interactions between local site factors, landscape history and structure, regional species pools and species life histories. Our analysis focuses on vegetation change following abandonment of agricultural fields or pastures, as this is the most extensive form of major disturbance in Neotropical forests. We consider five tree community attributes: stem density, basal area, species density, species richness and species composition. We describe two case studies, in northeastern Costa Rica and Chiapas, Mexico, where both chronosequence and annual tree dynamics studies are being applied. These case studies show that the rates of change in tree communities often deviate from chronosequence trends. With respect to tree species composition, sites of different ages differ more than a single site followed over time through the same age range. Dynamic changes in basal area within stands, on the other hand, generally followed chronosequence trends. Basal area accumulation was more linked with tree growth rates than with net changes in tree density due to recruitment and mortality. Stem turnover rates were poor predictors of species turnover rates, particularly at longer time-intervals. Effects of the surrounding landscape on tree community dynamics within individual plots are poorly understood, but are likely to be important determinants of species accumulation rates and relative abundance patterns.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)273-289
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. Biological sciences
Issue number1478
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • tropical dry-forest
  • upper rio negro
  • rain-forest
  • puerto-rico
  • costa-rica
  • deciduous forest
  • species composition
  • central amazonia
  • land-use
  • hurricane disturbance

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