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Temporal and spatial variability in seedling dynamics: a cross-site comparison in four lowland tropical forests

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2008

Margaret R. Metz*
Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, CA, 94720-3140, USA
Liza S. Comita
Department of Plant Biology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602-7271, USA
Yu-Yun Chen
Department of Plant Biology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602-7271, USA
Natalia Norden
Laboratoire Evolution et Diversité Biologique, UMR 7154, Université Paul Sabatier, F-31062 Toulouse, France
Richard Condit
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Apartado Postal 0843-03092, Panamá, Republic of Panamá National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, 735 State St., Santa Barbara, CA, 93101, USA
Stephen P. Hubbell
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Apartado Postal 0843-03092, Panamá, Republic of Panamá
I-Fang Sun
Center for Tropical Ecology and Biodiversity, Tunghai University, Taiwan, R.O.C. 40704
Nur Supardi bin Md. Noor
Forest Research Institute Malaysia, Kepong, 52109 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
S. Joseph Wright
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Apartado Postal 0843-03092, Panamá, Republic of Panamá
1Corresponding author. Email:


Spatial and temporal variation in seedling dynamics was assessed using records of community-wide seedling demography collected with identical monitoring methods at four tropical lowland forests in Panama, Malaysia, Ecuador and French Guiana for periods of between 3 and 10 y. At each site, the fates of between 8617 and 391 777 seedlings were followed through annual censuses of the 370–1008 1-m2 seedling plots. Within-site spatial and inter-annual variation in density, recruitment, growth and mortality was compared with among-site variability using Bayesian hierarchical modelling to determine the generality of each site's patterns and potential for meaningful comparisons among sites. The Malaysian forest, which experiences community-wide masting, was the most variable in both seedling density and recruitment. However, density varied year-to-year at all sites (CVamong years at site = 8–43%), driven largely by high variability in recruitment rates (CV = 40–117%). At all sites, recruitment was more variable than mortality (CV = 5–64%) or growth (CV = 12–51%). Increases in mortality rates lagged 1 y behind large recruitment events. Within-site spatial variation and inter-annual differences were greater than differences among site averages in all rates, emphasizing the value of long-term comparative studies when generalizing how spatial and temporal variation drive patterns of recruitment in tropical forests.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2008

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