Demographic trade-offs predict tropical forest dynamics

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Science  10 Apr 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6487, pp. 165-168
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaz4797

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Forest dynamics and demography

Tropical forest succession has been viewed mostly by considering trees in categories of early-, mid-, and late-successional species, corresponding to a fast–slow continuum of life history strategies. Rüger et al. now show that the fast–slow continuum does not capture the demographic strategy of the long-lived pioneer species, an important component of many tropical forests (see the Perspective by Bugmann). They developed a forest model that allows for objective predictions of tropical forest dynamics and validated the model's predictions against independent data. These findings should advance our understanding of tropical forest dynamics and facilitate sustainable tropical forest management.

Science, this issue p. 165; see also p. 128


Understanding tropical forest dynamics and planning for their sustainable management require efficient, yet accurate, predictions of the joint dynamics of hundreds of tree species. With increasing information on tropical tree life histories, our predictive understanding is no longer limited by species data but by the ability of existing models to make use of it. Using a demographic forest model, we show that the basal area and compositional changes during forest succession in a neotropical forest can be accurately predicted by representing tropical tree diversity (hundreds of species) with only five functional groups spanning two essential trade-offs—the growth-survival and stature-recruitment trade-offs. This data-driven modeling framework substantially improves our ability to predict consequences of anthropogenic impacts on tropical forests.

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