Resilience of tropical rain forests: tree community reassembly in secondary forests

Ecol Lett. 2009 May;12(5):385-94. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2009.01292.x.


Understanding the recovery dynamics of ecosystems presents a major challenge in the human-impacted tropics. We tested whether secondary forests follow equilibrium or non-equilibrium dynamics by evaluating community reassembly over time, across different successional stages, and among multiple life stages. Based on long-term and static data from six 1-ha plots in NE Costa Rica, we show that secondary forests are undergoing reassembly of canopy tree and palm species composition through the successful recruitment of seedlings, saplings, and young trees of mature forest species. Such patterns were observed over time within sites and across successional stages. Floristic reassembly in secondary forests showed a clear convergence with mature forest community composition, supporting an equilibrium model. This resilience stems from three key factors co-occurring locally: high abundance of generalist species in the regional flora, high levels of seed dispersal, and local presence of old-growth forest remnants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Costa Rica
  • Ecosystem*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Population Dynamics
  • Species Specificity
  • Trees / growth & development*
  • Tropical Climate