Brokaw N.

Land Use History, Environment, and Tree Composition in a Tropical Forest

Thompson, Jill; Brokaw, Nicholas; Zimmerman, Jess K.; Waide, Robert B.; Everham, Edwin M. III; Lodge, D. Jean; Taylor, Charlotte M.; Garcia-Montiel, Diana; Fluet, Marcheterre 2002. Land use history, environment, and tree composition in a tropical forest. Ecological applications. Vol. 12, no. 5 (2002): pages 1344-1363.

The effects of historical land use on tropical forest must be examined to understand present forest characteristics and to plan conservation strategies. We compared the effects of past land use, topography, soil type, and other environmental variables on tree species composition in a subtropical wet forest in the Luquillo Mountains, Puerto Rico. The study involved stems > 10 cm diameter measured at 130 cm above the ground, within the 16-ha Luquillo Forest Dynamics Plot (LFDP), and represents the forest at the time Hurricane Hugo struck in 1989. Topography in the plot is rugged, and soils are variable. Historical documents and local residents described past land uses such as clear-felling and selective logging followed by farming, fruit and coffee production, and timber stand improvement in the forest area that now includes the LFDP. These uses ceased 40-60 yr before the study, but their impacts could be differentiated by percent canopy cover seen in aerial photographs from 1936. Using these photographs, we defined four historic cover classes within the LFDP. These ranged from cover class 1, the least tree-covered area in 1936, to cover class 4, with the least intensive historic land use (selective logging and timber stand improvement). In 1989, cover class 1 had the lowest stem density and proportion of large stems, whereas cover class 4 had the highest basal area, species richness, and number of rare and endemic species. Ordination of tree species composition (89 species, 13 167 stems) produced arrays that primarily corresponded to the four cover classes (i.e., historic land uses). The ordination arrays corresponded secondarily to soil characteristics and topography. Natural disturbances (hurricanes, landslides, and local treefalls) affected tree composition, but these effects did not correlate with the major patterns of species distributions on the plot. Thus, it appears that forest development and natural disturbance have not masked the effects of historical land use in this tropical forest, and that past land use was the major influence on the patterns of tree composition in the plot in 1989. The least disturbed stand harbors more rare and endemic species, and such stands should be protected.

Plant responses to simulated hurricane impacts in a subtropical wet forest, Puerto Rico

Shiels, Aaron B.; Zimmerman, Jess K.; García-Montiel, Diana C.; Jonckheere, Inge; Holm, Jennifer; Horton, David; Brokaw, Nicholas. 2010. Plant responses to simulated hurricane impacts in a subtropical wet forest, Puerto Rico. Journal of Ecology. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2745.2010.01646.x.

1. We simulated two key components of severe hurricane disturbance, canopy openness and detritus deposition, to determine the independent and interactive effects of these components on woody plant recruitment and forest structure. 2. We increased canopy openness by trimming branches and added or subtracted canopy detritus in a factorial design. Plant responses were measured during the 4-year study, which followed at least 1 year of pre-manipulation monitoring. 3. The physical conditions of canopy openness and detritus deposition in our experiment resembled the responses to Hurricane Hugo, a severe category 4 hurricane that struck this forest in 1989. 4. Canopy detritus deposition killed existing woody seedlings and provided a mechanical barrier that suppressed seedling recruitment. The increase in understorey light caused by canopy trimming stimulated germination from the seed bank and increased seedling recruitment and density of pioneer species several hundred-fold when hurricane debris was absent. Many significant interactions between trimming and detritus deposition were evident from the manner in which seedling density, recruitment and mortality changed over time, and subsequently influenced the composition of woody stems (individuals ‡ 1 cmd.b.h.). 5. When the canopy was trimmed, stem densities increased> 2-fold and rates of recruitment into the stem size class increased> 25-fold. Trimming had no significant effect on stem mortality. The two dominant species that flourished following canopy trimming were the pioneer species Cecropia schreberiana and Psychotria berteriana. Deposition of canopy detritus had little effect on stems, although basal area increased slightly when detritus was added. There were no evident effects of the interactions between canopy trimming and detritus deposition on stems. 6. Synthesis. The separate and interactive effects of canopy openness and detritus deposition result in variable short-term trajectories of forest recovery. However, the short interval of increased canopy openness due to hurricane impacts and its influence on the recruitment of pioneer trees is the dominant factor that drives short-termrecovery and may alter long-term structure and composition of the forest.
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