Ecological and environmental factors constrain sprouting ability in tropical trees
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- Salk, C.F. & McMahon, S.M. Oecologia (2011) 166: 485. doi:10.1007/s00442-010-1850-7
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Most theories of forest biodiversity focus on the role of seed dispersal and seedling establishment in forest regeneration. In many ecosystems, however, sprouting by damaged stems determines which species occupies a site. Damaged trees can quickly recover from disturbance and out-compete seedlings. Links among species’ traits, environmental conditions and sprouting could offer insight into species’ resilience to changes in climate, land use, and disturbance. Using data for 25 Neotropical tree species at two sites with contrasting rainfall and soil, we tested hypotheses on how four functional traits (seed mass, leaf mass per area, wood density and nitrogen fixation) influence species’ sprouting responses to disturbance and how these relationships are mediated by a tree’s environmental context. Most species sprouted in response to cutting, and many species’ sprouting rates differed significantly between sites. Individual traits showed no direct correlation with sprouting. However, interactions among traits and site variables did affect sprouting rates. Many species showed increased sprouting in the higher-quality site. Most nitrogen-fixing species showed the opposite trend, sprouting more frequently where resources are scarce. This study highlights the use of functional traits as a proxy for life histories, and demonstrates the importance of environmental effects on demography.