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Ecology. 2007 Sep;88(9):2248-58.

Neighborhood and community interactions determine the spatial pattern of tropical tree seedling survival.

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  • 1School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen, St. Machar Drive, Aberdeen AB24 3UU, UK.


Factors affecting survival and recruitment of 3531 individually mapped seedlings of Myristicaceae were examined over three years in a highly diverse neotropical rain forest, at spatial scales of 1-9 m and 25 ha. We found convincing evidence of a community compensatory trend (CCT) in seedling survival (i.e., more abundant species had higher seedling mortality at the 25-ha scale), which suggests that density-dependent mortality may contribute to the spatial dynamics of seedling recruitment. Unlike previous studies, we demonstrate that the CCT was not caused by differences in microhabitat preferences or life history strategy among the study species. In local neighborhood analyses, the spatial autocorrelation of seedling survival was important at small spatial scales (1-5 m) but decayed rapidly with increasing distance. Relative seedling height had the greatest effect on seedling survival. Conspecific seedling density had a more negative effect on survival than heterospecific seedling density and was stronger and extended farther in rare species than in common species. Taken together, the CCT and neighborhood analyses suggest that seedling mortality is coupled more strongly to the landscape-scale abundance of conspecific large trees in common species and the local density of conspecific seedlings in rare species. We conclude that negative density dependence could promote species coexistence in this rain forest community but that the scale dependence of interactions differs between rare and common species.

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