Trees

, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 312–321

Drought effects on seedling survival in a tropical moist forest

  • Bettina M. J. Engelbrecht
  • Thomas A. Kursar
  • Melvin T. Tyree
Original Article

Abstract

The amount and seasonality of rainfall varies strongly in the tropics, and plant species abundance, distribution and diversity are correlated with rainfall. Drought periods leading to plant stress occur not only in dry forests, but also in moist and even wet forests. We quantified experimentally the effect of drought on survival of first year seedlings of 28 co-occurring tropical woody plant species in the understory of a tropical moist forest. The seedlings were transplanted to plots and subjected to a drought and an irrigation treatment for 22 weeks during the dry season. Drought effects on mortality and wilting behavior varied greatly among species, so that relative survival in the dry treatment ranged from 0% to about 100% of that in the irrigated treatment. Drought stress was the main factor in mortality, causing about 90% (median) of the total mortality observed in the dry treatment. In almost half of the species, the difference in survival between treatments was not significant even after 22 weeks, implying that many of the species are well adapted to drought in this forest. Relative drought survival was significantly higher in species associated with dry habitats than in those associated with wet habitats, and in species with higher abundance on the dry side of the Isthmus of Panama, than in those more abundant on the wet side. These data show that differential species survival in response to drought, combined with variation in soil moisture availability, may be important for species distribution at the local and regional scale in many tropical forests.

Keywords

Mortality Drought performance Irrigation Soil moisture Tropical moist forest 

References

  1. APG (1998) An ordinal classification for the families of flowering plants. Ann Mo Bot Gard 85:531–553Google Scholar
  2. Augspurger CK (1984a) Light requirements of tropical seedlings: a comparative study of growth and survival. J Ecol 72:777–779Google Scholar
  3. Augspurger CK (1984b) Seedling survival among tropical tree species: interactions of dispersal distance, light-gaps, and pathogens. Ecol 65:1705–1712Google Scholar
  4. Becker P (1992) Seasonality of rainfall and drought in Brunei Darussalam. Brunei Museum J 7:99–109Google Scholar
  5. Becker P, Rabenold PE, Idol JR, Smith AP (1988) Water potential gradients for gaps and slopes in a Panamanian tropical moist forest’s dry season. J Trop Ecol 4:173–184Google Scholar
  6. Bongers F, Poorter L, Van Rompaey RSAR, Parren MPE (1999) Distribution of twelve moist forest canopy tree species in Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire: response curves to a climatic gradient. J Veg Sci 10:371–382Google Scholar
  7. Borchert R (1998) Responses of tropical trees to rainfall seasonality and its long-term changes. Clim Change 39:381–393CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Burslem DFRP, Grubb PJ, Turner IM (1996) Responses to simulated drought and elevated nutrient supply among shade-tolerant tree seedlings of lowland tropical forest in Singapore. Biotropica 28:636–646Google Scholar
  9. Cabin RJ, Weller SG, Lorence DH, Cordell S, Hadway LJ (2002) Effects of microsite, water, weeding, and direct seeding on the regeneration of native and alien species within a Hawaiian dry forest preserve. Biol Conserv 104:181–190CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chiarello N, Field C, Mooney H (1987) Midday wilting in a tropical pioneer tree. Funct Ecol 1:3–11Google Scholar
  11. Clark DB, Clark DA (1989) The role of physical damage in the seedling mortality regime of a neotropical rainforest. Oikos 55:225–230Google Scholar
  12. Chuyong GB, Kenfack D, Thomas D (2003) Species-habitat association and diversity at Korup, Cameroon. Inside CTFS 2003:3–10Google Scholar
  13. Condit R (1998) Ecological implications of changes in drought patterns: shift in forest composition in Panama. Clim Change 39:413–427CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Condit R, Hubbell SP, Foster RB (1995) Mortality rates of 205 neotropical tree and shrub species and the impact of severe drought. Ecol Monogr 65:419–439Google Scholar
  15. Condit R, Aguilar S, Hernandez A, Perez R, Lao S, Angehr G, Hubbell SP, Foster RB (2004) Tropical forest dynamics across a rainfall gradient and the impact of an El Niño dry season. J Trop Ecol 20:51–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Croat TB (1978) The flora of Barro Colorado Island. Stanford University Press, StanfordGoogle Scholar
  17. Engelbrecht BMJ (1998) Ecology and ecophysiology of coexisting Piper species in the understory of tropical rainforests. PhD Thesis, Universitaet Darmstadt, GermanyGoogle Scholar
  18. Engelbrecht BMJ, Kursar TA (2003) Comparative drought-resistance of seedlings of 28 species of co-occurring tropical woody plants. Oecologia 136:383–393CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Engelbrecht BMJ, Wright SJ, DeSteven D (2002) Effects of El Niño drought on survival and water relations of seedlings of three neotropical rainforest species in Panama. J Trop Ecol 18:569–579CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fisher BL, Howe HF, Wright SJ (1991) Survival and growth of Virola surinamensis yearlings: water augmentation in gap and understory. Oecologia 86:292–297CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Garwood NC (1982) Seasonal rhythm of seed germination in a semideciduous tropical forest. In: Leigh EG Jr, Rand AS, Windsor DM (eds) The ecology of a tropical forest: seasonal rhythms and long-term changes. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C., pp 173–199Google Scholar
  22. Gentry AH (1988) Changes in plant community diversity and floristic composition on environmental and geographical gradients. Ann Missouri Bot Gard 75:1–34Google Scholar
  23. Gerhardt K (1996) Effects of root competition and canopy openness on survival and growth of tree seedlings in a tropical seasonal dry forest. For Ecol Manag 92:33–48Google Scholar
  24. Gilbert GS, Harms KE, Hamill DN, Hubbell SP (2001) Effects of seedling size, El Niño drought, seedling density and distance to nearest conspecific adult on 6-year survival of Ocotea whitei seedlings in Panama. Oecologia 127:509–516CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Givnish TJ (1999) On the causes of gradients in tropical tree diversity. J Ecol 87:193–210CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Green JJ, Newbery DM (2002) Reproductive investment and seedling survival of the mast-fruiting rain forest tree, Microberlinia bisulcata A. chev. Plant Ecol 162:169–183CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Gunatilleke CVS, Esufali S, Gunatilleke IAUN, Harms KE, Burslem D (2003) Species-habitat associations in the forest dynamics plot at Sinharaja, Sri Lanka. Inside CTFS, 2003, 4–11Google Scholar
  28. Harms KE, Condit R, Hubbell SP, Foster RB (2001) Habitat associations of trees and shrubs in a 50-ha neotropical forest plot. J Ecol 89:947–959Google Scholar
  29. Holbrook NM, Whitbeck JL, Mooney HA (1995) Drought responses of neotropical dry forest trees. In: Bullock SH, Mooney HA, Medina E (eds) Seasonally dry tropical forests. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 242–276Google Scholar
  30. Howe HF (1990) Survival and growth of juvenile Virola surinamensis in Panama: effects of herbivory and canopy closure. J Trop Ecol 6:259–280Google Scholar
  31. Hubbell SP (2001) The unified neutral theory of biodiversity and biogeography. Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J.Google Scholar
  32. Hulme M, Viner D (1998) A climate change scenario for the tropics. Clim Change 39:145–176CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Johns R, Dattaraja HS (2003) Distributions of tropical deciduous forest trees in Mudumalai, Southern India. Inside CTFS, 2003:6–13Google Scholar
  34. Lösch R, Gansert D (2002) Organismic interactions and plant water relations. Prog Bot 63:258–285Google Scholar
  35. Marod D, Kutintara U, Tanaka H, Nakashizuka T (2002) The effects of drought and fire on seed and seedling dynamics in a tropical seasonal forest in Thailand. Plant Ecol 161:41–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Medina E (1983) Adaptations of tropical trees to moisture stress. In: Golley F (ed) Tropical rainforest ecosystems: structure and function. Elsevier, New York, pp 225–237Google Scholar
  37. Mulkey SS, Wright SJ (1996) Influence of seasonal drought on the carbon balance of tropical forest plants. In: Smith AP, Mulkey SS, Chazdon RL (eds) Tropical forest plant ecophysiology. Chapman and Hall, New York, pp 187–216Google Scholar
  38. Poorter L, Hayashida-Oliver Y (2000) Effects of seasonal drought on gap and understory seedlings in a Bolivian moist forest. J Trop Ecol 16:481–498CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Pyke CR, Condit R, Aguilar S, Lao S (2001) Floristic composition across a climatic gradient in a neotropical lowland forest. J Veg Sci 12:553–566Google Scholar
  40. Reich PB (1995) Phenology of tropical forests: patterns, causes, and consequences. Can J Bot 73:164–174Google Scholar
  41. Richards PW (1998) The tropical rain forest an ecological study, 2nd edn. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  42. Schoeneweiss D (1986) Water stress disposition to disease—an overview. In: Ayres P (ed) Water, fungi and plants. Cambridge University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  43. Swaine MD (1996) Rainfall and soil fertility as factors limiting forest species distributions in Ghana. J Ecol 84:419–428Google Scholar
  44. Timmermann A, Oberhuber J, Bacher A, Esch M, Latif M, Roeckner E (1999) Increased El Niño frequency in a climate model forced by future greenhouse warming. Nature 398:694–697CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Tobin MF, Lopez OR, Kursar TA (1999) Responses of tropical understory plants to a severe drought: tolerance and avoidance of water stress. Biotropica 31:570–578Google Scholar
  46. Toma T, Marjenah Hastaniah (2000) Climate in Bukit Soeharto, East Kalimantan. In: Guhardja E, Fatawi M, Sutisna M, Mori T, Ohta S (eds) Rainforest ecosystems of East Kalimantan. El Niño, drought, fire and human impacts. Springer, Tokyo Berlin Heidelberg, pp 107–117Google Scholar
  47. Turner IM (1990) The seedling survivorship and growth of three Shorea species in a Malaysian tropical rain forest. J Trop Ecol 6:469–478Google Scholar
  48. Tyree MT, Vargas G, Engelbrecht BMJ, Kursar TA (2002) Drought until death do us part: a case study of the desiccation-tolerance of a tropical moist forest seedling-tree, Licania platypus (Hemsl.) Fritsch. J Exp Bot 53:2239–2247CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Tyree MT, Engelbrecht BMJ, Vargas G, Kursar TA (2003) Desiccation tolerance of five tropical seedlings in Panama: relationship to a field assessment of drought performance. Plant Physiol 132:1439–1447CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. VAST Nomenclatural Database (2003) Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis. http://mobot.mobot.org/W3T/Search/vast.html. Cited 11 November 2003Google Scholar
  51. Veenendaal EM, Swaine MD, Agyeman VK, Blay D, Abebrese IK, Mullins CE (1995) Differences in plant and soil water relations in and around a forest gap in West Africa during the dry season may influence seedling establishment and survival. J Ecol 83:83–90Google Scholar
  52. Veenendaal EM, Swaine MD (1998) Limits to tree species distribution in lowland tropical rainforests. In: Newbery DM, Prins HHT, Brown N (eds) Dynamics of tropical forest communities. 37th Symposium of the British Ecological Society, Blackwell Science, Oxford, pp 163–191Google Scholar
  53. Walsh RPD, Newbery DM (1999) The ecoclimatology of Danum, Sabah, in the context of the world’s rainforest regions, with particular reference to dry periods and their impact. Phil Trans R Soc London B 354:1391–1405Google Scholar
  54. Webb CO, Peart DR (2000) Habitat associations of trees and seedlings in a Bornean rain forest. J Ecol 88:464–478CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Windsor DM (1990) Climate and moisture availability in a tropical forest. Long-term records from Barro Colorado Island, Panama. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  56. Wolda H (1988) Insect seasonality: why? Annu Rev Ecol Syst 19:1–18Google Scholar
  57. Wright SJ (1996) Phenological responses to seasonality in tropical forest plants. In: Smith AP, Mulkey SS, Chazdon RL (eds) Tropical forest plant ecophysiology. Chapman and Hall, New York, pp 440–460Google Scholar
  58. Wright SJ (2002) Plant diversity in tropical forests: a review of mechanisms of species coexistence. Oecologia 130:1–14Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bettina M. J. Engelbrecht
    • 1
  • Thomas A. Kursar
    • 1
    • 2
  • Melvin T. Tyree
    • 3
  1. 1.Smithsonian Tropical Research InstituteBalboaRepublic of Panama
  2. 2.Department of BiologyUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA
  3. 3.USDA Forest ServiceBurlingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations