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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2004 March 29; 359(1443): 381–407.
PMCID: PMC1693333

Pattern and process in Amazon tree turnover, 1976-2001.

Abstract

Previous work has shown that tree turnover, tree biomass and large liana densities have increased in mature tropical forest plots in the late twentieth century. These results point to a concerted shift in forest ecological processes that may already be having significant impacts on terrestrial carbon stocks, fluxes and biodiversity. However, the findings have proved controversial, partly because a rather limited number of permanent plots have been monitored for rather short periods. The aim of this paper is to characterize regional-scale patterns of 'tree turnover' (the rate with which trees die and recruit into a population) by using improved datasets now available for Amazonia that span the past 25 years. Specifically, we assess whether concerted changes in turnover are occurring, and if so whether they are general throughout the Amazon or restricted to one region or environmental zone. In addition, we ask whether they are driven by changes in recruitment, mortality or both. We find that: (i) trees 10 cm or more in diameter recruit and die twice as fast on the richer soils of southern and western Amazonia than on the poorer soils of eastern and central Amazonia; (ii) turnover rates have increased throughout Amazonia over the past two decades; (iii) mortality and recruitment rates have both increased significantly in every region and environmental zone, with the exception of mortality in eastern Amazonia; (iv) recruitment rates have consistently exceeded mortality rates; (v) absolute increases in recruitment and mortality rates are greatest in western Amazonian sites; and (vi) mortality appears to be lagging recruitment at regional scales. These spatial patterns and temporal trends are not caused by obvious artefacts in the data or the analyses. The trends cannot be directly driven by a mortality driver (such as increased drought or fragmentation-related death) because the biomass in these forests has simultaneously increased. Our findings therefore indicate that long-acting and widespread environmental changes are stimulating the growth and productivity of Amazon forests.

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Articles from Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences are provided here courtesy of The Royal Society