Land-use history augments environment–plant community relationship strength in a Puerto Rican wet forest

TitleLand-use history augments environment–plant community relationship strength in a Puerto Rican wet forest
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsHogan, JA, Zimmerman, JK, Uriarte, M, Turner, BL, Thompson, J
JournalJournal of Ecology
Date Published06/2016
Accession NumberLUQ.1302
Keywordsbeta-diversity maps, land-use legacies, Luquillo, plant–soil (below-ground) interac- tions, soil resources, spatial autoco rrelation, terrain ruggedness, topography, tropical forest, variance partitioning
AbstractSummary Environmental heterogeneity influences the species composition of tropical forests, with implications for patterns of diversity and species coexistence in these hyperdiverse communities. Many studies have examined how variability in soil nutrients and topography influence plant community composition, with differing results. None have quantified the relative contribution of environmental heterogeneity versus endogenous processes to variability in forest community composition over time and with respect to successional recovery. Using five consecutive trees censuses of a forest plot in Puerto Rico, conducted between 1990 and 2011, we evaluated the influence of edaphic and topographic variability on community composition. The plot has a well-documented land-use history and is subject to periodic hurricane disturbance. Using multiple canonical distance-based redundancy analyses, we studied how spatial heterogeneity in soil nutrients and topography structure community composition over time, as the forest recovers from long-term land-use effects and two major hurricanes in 1989 and 1998. For the entire plot, spatial variables (principle coordinates of neighbourhood matrices), representing the autocorrelation of tree species in the community, explained the majority (49–57%) of the variability in tree community composition. The explanatory power of spatial variables decreased over time, as forest structure recovered from hurricane damage and the stems in the understorey died. Soil nutrients and topography, collectively, explained a moderate portion (33–37%) of the species compositional variation and were slightly more robust in explaining compositional differences in areas of more intense past land use. Areas of less-intense past land use showed weaker community–environmental trends overall, illustrating a tendency for stronger resource competition (i.e. light, water and soil nutrients) between species in these areas. This illustrates how environmental–plant community interactions are strengthened by the lasting effects of human land-use legacies, which persist for decades to centuries. Synthesis. Our findings confirm past land use to be a fundamental driver of the structure and composition of secondary forests through its impacts on the tree community, the abiotic terrestrial environment and their interaction. Since the extent of second-growth tropical forests continues to increase, our findings highlight the importance of understanding the processes that determine the rate and nature of their succession.