Altered resource availability and the population dynamics of tree species in Amazonian secondary forests
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Despite research demonstrating that water and nutrient availability exert strong effects on multiple ecosystem processes in tropical forests, little is known about the effect of these factors on the demography and population dynamics of tropical trees. Over the course of 5 years, we monitored two common Amazonian secondary forest species—Lacistema pubescens and Myrcia sylvatica—in dry-season irrigation, litter-removal and control plots. We then evaluated the effects of altered water and nutrient availability on population demography and dynamics using matrix models and life table response experiments. Our results show that despite prolonged experimental manipulation of water and nutrient availability, there were nearly no consistent and unidirectional treatment effects on the demography of either species. The patterns and significance of observed treatment effects were largely dependent on cross-year variability not related to rainfall patterns, and disappeared once we pooled data across years. Furthermore, most of these transient treatment effects had little effect on population growth rates. Our results suggest that despite major experimental manipulations of water and nutrient availability—factors considered critical to the ecology of tropical pioneer tree species—autogenic light limitation appears to be the primary regulator of tree demography at early/mid successional stages. Indeed, the effects of light availability may completely override those of other factors thought to influence the successional development of Amazonian secondary forests.