Intensive research activity alters short-term seedling dynamics in a tropical forest
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Researchers can have unintentional, yet significant effects on their study systems. We tested for the effects of an intensive tree census on seedling dynamics in a 50-ha permanent forest plot on Barro Colorado Island, Panama. At the community level, and for different shade-tolerance guilds, we found no significant differences in seedling recruitment or survival inside compared to controls outside the plot. However, among growth forms, canopy trees and lianas exhibited significantly lower seedling survival inside the plot. Results suggest that intense researcher activity impacts short-term vegetation dynamics, but effects do not accumulate over time.
KeywordsDisturbance Forest dynamics plot Long-term ecological research Research impact Trampling
We thank Leslie Morefield, Salomon Aguilar, Blexein Contreras, and the BCI plot crew for assisting with the seedling censuses. Valuable comments were provided by Sarah Batterman and Adam Roddy. Funding for this research was provided by a U.S. National Science Foundation grant (award number 0075102) and Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) supplemental grant. L. Comita acknowledges the support of an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and a University of Georgia Presidential Fellowship. Logistical support was provided by the University of Georgia, the Center for Tropical Forest Science and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
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