Spatial contagiousness of canopy disturbance in tropical rain forest: An individual - tree-based test

P.A. Jansen, P.J. van der Meer, F. Bongers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Spatial contagiousness of canopy dynamics¿the tendency of canopy disturbances to occur nearby existing canopy openings due to an elevated risk of tree fall around gaps¿has been demonstrated in many temperate-zone forests, but only inferentially for tropical forests. Hypothesized mechanisms increasing the risk of tree fall around tropical forest gaps are (1) increased tree exposure to wind around gaps, (2) reduced stability of trees alongside gaps due to crown asymmetry, or (3) reduced tree health around gaps due to damage from prior disturbances. One hypothesized consequence of elevated disturbance levels around gaps would be that gap-edge zones offer relatively favorable prospects for seedling recruitment, growth, and survival. We tested whether disturbance levels are indeed elevated around natural canopy gaps in a neotropical rain forest in French Guiana, and more so as gaps are larger. We followed the fate of 5660 trees >10 cm stem diameter over five years across 12 ha of old-growth forest and analyzed the risk and magnitude of canopy disturbance events in relation to tree diameter and the proximity and size of natural canopy gaps. We found that the cumulative incidence of disturbance over the five-year survey was not significantly elevated around preexisting gaps, and only weakly related to gap size. Also, neither the risk nor the magnitude of canopy disturbances increased significantly with the proximity of gaps. Moreover, canopy disturbance risk around gaps was independent of gap size, while the magnitude of disturbance events around gaps was weakly related to gap size. Tree size was the major driver of disturbance risk as well as magnitude. We did find an elevated incidence of disturbance inside preexisting gaps, but this ¿repeat disturbance¿ was due to an elevated disturbance risk inside gaps, not around gaps. Overall, we found no strong evidence for canopy dynamics in this rain forest being spatially contagious. Our findings are consistent with the traditional view of tropical rain forests as mosaics of patches with predictable regeneration cycles.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3490-3502
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • gap-phase regeneration
  • french-guiana
  • natural disturbance
  • species-richness
  • crown asymmetry
  • dynamics
  • growth
  • patterns
  • vegetation
  • temperate


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