Species dynamics during early secondary forest succession: recruitment, mortality and species turnover.

M. van Breugel, F.J.J.M. Bongers, M. Martínez-Ramos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

77 Citations (Scopus)


The "Initial Floristic Composition" hypothesis is applied to secondary tropical rain forest succession in abandoned agricultural fields with light previous land-use and close to seed sources. This hypothesis predicts that both pioneer and shade-tolerant species colonize a site directly after abandonment, and as the canopy closes, the recruitment of pioneers sharply declines, while recruitment of shade-tolerant species continues. It also predicts higher mortality among pioneers. Consequently, recruited and dead trees are expected to differ in species composition, with highest species richness for the recruits. During 18 mo, we monitored recruitment and mortality of trees with height ¿ 1.5 m in eight plots in abandoned cornfields with initial fallow age of 1¿5 yr, in SE Mexico. Shade-tolerant species established in the first years of succession, albeit in low numbers. As predicted, recruited and dead trees differed in species richness and composition, and in shade-tolerant frequency. In contrast to our expectations, over 50 percent of recruits were from pioneer species, as high stand-level mortality opened new opportunities for continued pioneer colonization. Species turnover starts very early in succession but is not always a gradual and continuous process, complicating prevailing succession models. The strong spatial and temporal variability of succession emphasizes the need to monitor these dynamics in permanent plots across a range of initial stand ages, with multiple plots in a given age class.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)610-619
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • tropical rain-forests
  • dispersal distance
  • plant succession
  • burn agriculture
  • moist forest
  • puerto-rico
  • growth
  • light
  • chronosequence
  • management

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