Little is known about how climatic variability affects fragmented forests and their abrupt edges. We contrasted effects of the 1997 El Niño drought between fragmented and continuous forests in central Amazonia, using long-term data on tree mortality. For 23 permanent 1-ha plots, annualized mortality rates of trees ≥ 10 cm diameter at breast height (dbh) were compared among a ‘baseline’ interval of 5-17 y before the drought, a 12-16-month interval during the drought, and a 12-13-month interval after the drought, using repeated-measures ANOVA. We also examined the size distributions of dead trees for each interval. During the drought, average annual tree mortality rose significantly in both forest edges (from 2.44% to 2.93%) and interiors (from 1.13% to 1.91%), and the magnitude of this increase did not differ significantly between edges and interiors. After the drought, tree mortality declined in all plots, but most dramatically on edges. Mortality rates were more variable over time on edges than interiors, and there was no evidence of time lags in mortality. In forest interiors, the size distributions of trees that died did not differ significantly among the three intervals. On edges, however, relatively fewer small (10-15 cm dbh) and more medium-sized (20-30 cm dbh) trees died in the post-drought interval, compared to other intervals. Moreover, forest edges lost a significantly higher proportion of large (≥ 60 cm dbh) trees than did forest interiors. These results suggest that droughts have relatively complex effects on fragmented Amazonian forests. Drought effects in our forest fragments probably were reduced by prior floristic and structural changes near edges and by adjoining regrowth forest that partially buffered edge vegetation from desiccating conditions.
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