Diversity, distribution and dynamics of large trees across an old-growth...

Clark, D. B., A. Ferraz, D. A. Clark, J. Kellner, S. G. Letcher, and S. Saatchi (2019), Diversity, distribution and dynamics of large trees across an old-growth lowland tropical rain forest landscape, PLoS ONE, 14, e0224896, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0224896.

Large trees, here defined as �60 cm trunk diameter, are the most massive organisms in tropical rain forest, and are important in forest structure, dynamics and carbon cycling. The status of large trees in tropical forest is unclear, with both increasing and decreasing trends reported. We sampled across an old-growth tropical rain forest landscape at the La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica to study the distribution and performance of large trees and their contribution to forest structure and dynamics. We censused all large trees in 238 0.50 ha plots, and also identified and measured all stems �10 cm diameter in 18 0.50 ha plots annually for 20 years (1997–2017). We assessed abundance, species diversity, and crown conditions of large trees in relation to soil type and topography, measured the contribution of large trees to stand structure, productivity, and dynamics, and analyzed the decadal population trends of large trees. Large trees accounted for 2.5% of stems and ~25% of mean basal area and Estimated Above-Ground Biomass, and produced ~10% of the estimated wood production. Crown exposure increased with stem diameter but predictability was low. Large tree density was about twice as high on more-fertile flat sites compared to less fertile sites on slopes and plateaus. Density of large trees increased 27% over the study interval, but the increase was restricted to the flat more-fertile sites. Mortality and recruitment differed between large trees and smaller stems, and strongly suggested that large tree density was affected by past climatic disturbances such as large El Niño events. Our results generally do not support the hypothesis of increasing biomass and turnover rates in tropical forest. We suggest that additional landscape-scale studies of large trees are needed to determine the generality of disturbance legacies in tropical forest study sites.

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Carbon Cycle & Ecosystems Program (CCEP)