Effects of vegetation cover on seedling and sapling dynamics in secondary tropical wet forests in Costa Rica

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Journal of Tropical Ecology


We examined effects of experimental manipulations of vegetation cover on recruitment, mortality and density of seedlings (20–100 cm tall) and saplings ([greater-than-or-equal]100 cm tall) of woody growth forms over a 2.5-y period. We created four treatments in each of three 15–20-y-old tropical forest stands in Costa Rica: a large canopy gap (270–350 m2), a small canopy gap (50–100 m2), understorey vegetation removal, and an unmanipulated control treatment. Creation of canopy gaps, especially large ones, increased first-year recruitment and density, as well as overall mortality of seedlings. Saplings experienced lower mortality and more prolonged gap-enhanced recruitment and density than seedlings. Removal of understorey vegetation had little or no effect on tree seedling and sapling dynamics. Recruitment and density of lianas responded only to large gaps, whereas understorey species responded to both gap treatments and to spatial heterogeneity within gaps. Tree species exhibited diverse regeneration requirements, whereas liana and understorey species were more specialized to the high and low ends of the light availability gradient, respectively. Canopy gaps provide a critical mechanism for regeneration of lianas, and canopy tree species that dominate during the early stages of secondary forest succession. The choice of management system for these secondary forests can determine the direction and rate of succession.

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