Nonrandom Processes Maintain Diversity in Tropical Forests

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Science  27 Jan 2006:
Vol. 311, Issue 5760, pp. 527-531
DOI: 10.1126/science.1117715

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An ecological community's species diversity tends to erode through time as a result of stochastic extinction, competitive exclusion, and unstable host-enemy dynamics. This erosion of diversity can be prevented over the short term if recruits are highly diverse as a result of preferential recruitment of rare species or, alternatively, if rare species survive preferentially, which increases diversity as the ages of the individuals increase. Here, we present census data from seven New and Old World tropical forest dynamics plots that all show the latter pattern. Within local areas, the trees that survived were as a group more diverse than those that were recruited or those that died. The larger (and therefore on average older) survivors were more diverse within local areas than the smaller survivors. When species were rare in a local area, they had a higher survival rate than when they were common, resulting in enrichment for rare species and increasing diversity with age and size class in these complex ecosystems.

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