Assessing Evidence for a Pervasive Alteration in Tropical Tree Communities

TitleAssessing Evidence for a Pervasive Alteration in Tropical Tree Communities
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsChave, J, Condit, R, Muller, GM, Thomas, SC, Ashton, P, Bunyavejchewin, S
JournalPLoS Biology
Date Published03/2008
Accession NumberLUQ.923
Keywordstropical forests

InAmazonian tropical forests, recent studies have reported increases in aboveground biomass and in primary productivity, as well as shifts in plant species composition favouring fast-growing species over slow-growing ones. This pervasive alteration ofmature tropical forestswas attributed to global environmental change, such as an increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration, nutrient deposition, temperature, drought frequency, and/or irradiance. We used standardized, repeated measurements of over 2million trees in ten large (16–52 ha each) forest plots on three continents to evaluate the generality of these findings across tropical forests. Aboveground biomass increased at seven of our ten plots, significantly so at four plots, and showed a large decrease at a single plot. Carbon accumulation pooled across sites was significant (þ0.24 MgC ha1 y1, 95% confidence intervals [0.07, 0.39] MgC ha1 y1), but lower than reported previously for Amazonia. At three sites for which we had data for multiple census intervals, we found no concerted increase in biomass gain, in conflict with the increased productivity hypothesis. Over all ten plots, the fastest-growing quartile of species gained biomass (þ0.33[0.09, 0.55]%y1) comparedwith the tree community as a whole (þ0.15%y1); however, this significant trend was due to a single plot. Biomass of slow-growing species increased significantlywhen calculated over all plots (þ0.21 [0.02, 0.37]%y1),and in half of our plots when calculated individually. Our results do not support the hypothesis that fast-growing species are consistently increasing in dominance in tropical tree communities. Instead, they suggest that our plots may be simultaneously recovering frompast disturbances and affected by changes in resource availability.More long-termstudies are necessary to clarify the contribution of global change to the functioning of tropical forests.