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Overstory functional groups indicate the legacy of land use in a secondary tropical forest in southwestern China

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Anthropogenic disturbances are widespread in tropical forests and influence the species composition in the overstory. However, the impacts of historical disturbance on tropical forest overstory recovery are unclear due to a lack of disturbance data, and previous studies have focused on understory species. In this study, the purpose was to determine the influence of historical disturbance on the diversity, composition and regeneration of overstory species in present forests. In the 20-ha Xishuangbanna tropical seasonal rainforest dynamics plot in southwestern China, the historical disturbance boundaries were delineated based on panchromatic photographs from 1965. Factors that drove species clustering in the overstory layer (DBH ≥ 40 cm) were analyzed and the abundance, richness and composition of these species were compared among different tree groups based on multiple regression tree analysis. The coefficient of variation of the brightness value in historical panchromatic photographs from 1965 was the primary driver of species clustering in the overstory layer. The abundance and richness of overstory species throughout the regeneration process were similar, but species composition was always different. Although the proportion of large-seeded and vigorous-sprouting species showed no significant difference between disturbed and undisturbed forests in the treelet layer (DBH < 20 cm), the difference became significant when DBH increased. The findings highlight that historical disturbances have strong legacy effects on functional group composition in the overstory and the recovery of overstory species was multidimensional. Functional group composition can better indicate the dynamics of overstory species replacement during secondary succession.

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We thank Yuan Hu and Jinwen Lv for their assistance with historical data sorting and Dr. Yuebo Su for providing insightful comments and suggestions during the discussion on functional groups. We also thank Jinhai Mu, Shunrong Bao, Xin Dong, Yunchao Deng, Yan Shen, and Hanxiang Yan for their invaluable assistance with the field investigation.

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Min Cao and Yun Deng conceived, designed and directed the experiments and coordinated the study. Yun Deng wrote the manuscript. Min Cao improved and edited the manuscript. Wenfu Zhang, Jinlong Dong and Shengdong Yuan performed the field work. Hui Chen, Xiaobao Deng, Jiajia Liu, Xiaoyang Song, Shangwen Xia, and Luxiang Lin revised the manuscript. Liqing Sha provided the soil data. All authors have read and approved the submission of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Min Cao.

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Project funding: This study was supported by the Natural Science Foundation of Yunnan Province (Grant No: 202301AT070356), the Open Fund of the Key Laboratory of Tropical Forest Ecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, National Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 32061123003), the Joint Fund of the National Natural Science Foundation of China-Yunnan Province (Grant No. U1902203) and the Field Station Foundation of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

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Corresponding editor: Tao Xu.

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Deng, Y., Zhang, W., Cao, M. et al. Overstory functional groups indicate the legacy of land use in a secondary tropical forest in southwestern China. J. For. Res. 35, 85 (2024).

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