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Density-dependent dynamics of a dominant rain forest tree change with juvenile stage and time of masting

Abstract

Although negative density dependence (NDD) can facilitate tree species coexistence in forests, the underlying mechanisms can differ, and rarely are the dynamics of seedlings and saplings studied together. Herein we present and discuss a novel mechanism based on our investigation of NDD predictions for the large, grove-forming ectomycorrhizal mast fruiting tree, Microberlinia bisulcata (Caesalpiniaceae), in an 82.5-ha plot at Korup, Cameroon. We tested whether juvenile density, size, growth and survival decreases with increasing conspecific adult basal area for 3245 ‘new’ seedlings and 540 ‘old’ seedlings (< 75-cm tall) during an approximately 4-year study period (2008–2012) and for 234 ‘saplings’ (≥ 75-cm tall) during an approximately 6-year study period (2008–2014). We found that the respective densities of new seedlings, old seedlings and saplings were positively, not and negatively related to increasing BA. Maximum leaf numbers and heights of old seedlings were negatively correlated with increasing basal areas, as were sapling heights and stem diameters. Whereas survivorship of new seedlings decreased by more than one-half with increasing basal area over its range in 2010–2012, that of old seedlings decreased by almost two-thirds, but only in 2008–2010, and was generally unrelated to conspecific seedling density. In 2010–2012 relative growth rates in new seedlings’ heights decreased with increasing basal area, as well as with increasing seedling density, together with increasing leaf numbers, whereas old seedlings’ growth was unrelated to either conspecific density or basal area. Saplings of below-average height had reduced survivorship with increasing basal area (probability decreasing from approx. 0.4 to 0.05 over the basal area range tested), but only sapling growth in terms of leaf numbers decreased with increasing basal area. These static and dynamic results indicate that NDD is operating within this system, possibly stabilizing the M. bisulcata population. However, these NDD patterns are unlikely to be caused by symmetric competition or by consumers. Instead, an alternative mechanism for conspecific adult–juvenile negative feedback is proposed, one which involves the interaction between tree phenology and ectomycorrhizal linkages.

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Acknowledgments

We thank S. Njibile and C. Okha for their outstanding assistance in the forest with data collection. We are grateful for support from previous Conservators of Korup National Park, A. Kembou and P. Ndongmo, and support from the Ministries of Forestry and Wildlife (MINFOF) and Scientific Research and Innovation (MINRESI) in Cameroon for research permission. G.B. Chuyong and R. Kometa of the University of Buea provided invaluable logistic support. The field research reported here complied with the current laws of country (Cameroon) in which it was carried out.

Author contribution statement

JMN and DMN conceived and designed the study. JMN conducted the field work to collect the data. JMN carried out the statistical analyses. JMN and DMN interpreted the analyses and wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Julian M. Norghauer.

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Communicated by Katherine L. Gross.

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Norghauer, J.M., Newbery, D.M. Density-dependent dynamics of a dominant rain forest tree change with juvenile stage and time of masting. Oecologia 181, 207–223 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-015-3534-9

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Keywords

  • Density dependence
  • Lowland tropical forest
  • Mast fruiting
  • Negative feedback
  • Seedling growth and mortality