Revisiting the Relative Robes Roles of Land Use and the Environment in Subtropical Wet Forest: 21-Years of Dynamics from the Luquillo Forest Dynamics Plot, Puerto Rico
Hogan, James Aaron
Zimmerman, Jess K. (Consejero)
The Luquillo Forest Dynamics Plot (LFDP) has played a critical role in the initial discovery and subsequent investigation of many processes that govern tropical island wet forest dynamics. Previous work has identified past land use as the main factor in creating forest community compositional and structural differences across the plot. The responses of different species to past land-use intensity and to hurricane disturbances have created an evolving forest mosaic ideal for studying tropical forest successional dynamics. I revisited the interaction of land-use legacies and natural disturbance in the LFDP with new data and new approaches, with the motivation to reveal new information about the relative roles of anthropogenic disturbance and environmental-niche partitioning on tropical plant communities over time. In the context of tropical forests and their successional dynamics, I asked how succession resulting from a history of human land use and more recent hurricanes interacts with background environmental variation to effect community structure and diversity. Community dynamics, in terms of forest structure and composition, were summarized over a twenty-one year period, noticing a decreasing trend in species richness over time and structural maturation of the forest, shown by a decline in small stems (trees < 10 cm diameter) as it recovered from the compound effect of two major hurricane disturbances – Hugo, 1989 and Georges, 1998. We evaluate the magnitude of past human land use effects over time and define indicator species for areas of differing land-use pressure within the 16-Ha permanent LFDP. Using redundancy analysis, plant community-environmental relationships with respect to soils and topography are quantified. Spatial variables, computed using a principle coordinates of neighborhood matrix, explained the majority of the variability in plant community composition between areas of high and low past land-use within the LFDP, meaning environmental differences (e.g. niche differentiation among tree species) were found to be secondary to land-use legacies in determining forest community composition. Over two decades, the effect of past land-use peaked about 15-years following the first of two hurricanes, and remained relative stable over time. Despite damaging the forest, hurricanes preserved community differences in species composition and reinforced structural asymmetries due primarily to two species; Dacryodes excels Vahl., a dominant primary forest tree species, and Casearia arborea (Rich.) Urb., an abundant secondary forest species. Abiotic environmental factors (e.g. soil resources and topographic variation) were weak at explaining differences in forest community composition. Plant community-environmental relationships were stronger in more anthropogenicallydisturbed areas, suggesting long-term effects of land use on tropical forest communities on current community dynamics.