We examined patterns of seedling recruitment and their underlying mechanisms in a population of Chrysophyllum sp. nov. (Sapotaceae), a shade-tolerant canopy species in mature tropical rainforest in Queensland, Australia. We considered spatial scales ranging from 1 m 2 to 1 ha, and temporal scales ranging from 1 to 32 yr. Over the 32-yr study period there were six episodes of very high seedling recruitment (masts) at intervals ranging from 4 to 10 yr. Less than 2%% of new recruits were found in the nine censuses in other years. We found no significant correlations between the numbers of seedlings per census and either seasonal or annual rainfall, number of dry months per year, or El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events but found two correlations with mean seasonal air temperatures in the years preceding flowering. There were long-term changes in abundance in both time and space. In 1965 there were 163 seedling-sized plants in two dense patches, whereas in 1996, there were 4000 in 15 patches. Once a new patch became established, seedlings recruited there in each succeeding mast episode. Adult trees varied in their production of seedlings. Only 25%% of the trees in the sample analyzed participated in all mast years; others had few seedlings for up to 28 yr before beginning to produce many seedlings. Seedlings were shade tolerant. They grew extremely slowly in the shaded understory, mean height only doubling in 27 yr. They were also quite long-lived; 6%% of seedlings recruited in 1969 were still alive 27 yr later. There was little effect of natural enemies on seeds or seedlings. We found weak positive and negative effects of density on seed germination, seedling mortality, and growth. Mortality rates of Chrysophyllum seedlings did not show any trends with time, nor with distance from conspecific adults. These results suggest that abundance of older stages is determined by recruitment as well as subsequent growth and mortality. Mortality rates of seedlings of species other than Chrysophyllum decreased with distance from adult Chrysophyllum trees. Under present conditions, the Chrysophyllum population may be increasing in relation to that of other species, perhaps leading to a reduction in tree diversity in this tropical rainforest.
Ecology – Ecological Society of America
Published: Feb 1, 2000
Keywords: Chrysophyllum ; dispersal limitation ; masting ; rain forest ; recruitment, episodic ; recruitment limitation ; recruitment, seedling ; supply-side ecology ; tropical
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