Edaphic factors and initial conditions influence successional trajectories of early regenerating tropical dry forests

Sergio Estrada-Villegas, Mario Bailón, Jefferson S. Hall, Stefan A. Schnitzer, Benjamin L. Turner, Trevor Caughlin, Michiel van Breugel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Edaphic factors and initial conditions can regulate the speed of forest succession. Edaphic factors, which include soil chemistry and topography, determine soil resource availability and can filter species as forests mature. Initial plant cover early in succession can determine the rates at which secondary forests change in structure, richness, biomass and composition over time. While some of the effects of edaphic factors and initial conditions on forest succession have been studied, how they simultaneously modify young regenerating tropical forest has rarely been examined. We surveyed 22 young forests plots in Panama for 7 years (11, 6 and 3-year-old stands when censuses began). We study how tree and liana species composition change early in succession, as well as how edaphic factors (soil nutrients and topography) and initial conditions (initial basal area and forest canopy cover) influence changes in tree and liana abundance, species richness, biomass and composition throughout succession. We found that edaphic factors and initial conditions explained up to 45% of the variation in the successional trajectories for trees and lianas. Soil nutrients had a significant positive effect on the changes in tree biomass accretion, while topography significantly contributed to community similarity of large lianas over time. Initial basal area had a significant negative effect on the changes in sapling abundance and tree richness over time and a positive marginal effect on tree biomass accretion. Forest canopy cover only had a positive marginal effect on changes in sapling abundance. Tree abundance, biomass and richness increased over time, while sapling abundance, biomass and richness remained stable or decreased, probably due to community thinning. However, changes over time of small and large lianas diverged, probably due to differential resource availability that affected lianas but not trees. Synthesis. Soil fertility, topography and initial basal area influence early forest regeneration. Higher soil fertility can allow trees to fix carbon faster, and lianas might show habitat association to ridges and slopes. Basal area can determine how fast saplings and trees change in abundance, richness and biomass over time by possibly affecting space availability for recruitment and light availability for growth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)160-174
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


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