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Ecology. 2010 Dec;91(12):3675-85.

Widespread density-dependent seedling mortality promotes species coexistence in a highly diverse Amazonian rain forest.

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  • 1Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720, USA.


Negative density-dependent mortality can promote species coexistence through a spacing mechanism that prevents species from becoming too locally abundant. Negative density-dependent seedling mortality can be caused by interactions among seedlings or between seedlings and neighboring adults if the density of neighbors affects the strength of competition or facilitates the attack of natural enemies. We investigated the effects of seedling and adult neighborhoods on the survival of newly recruited seedlings for multiple cohorts of known age from 163 species in Yasuni National Park, Ecuador, an ever-wet, hyper-diverse lowland Amazonian rain forest. At local scales, we found a strong negative impact on first-year survival of conspecific seedling densities and adult abundance in multiple neighborhood sizes and a beneficial effect of a local tree neighborhood that is distantly related to the focal seedling. Once seedlings have survived their first year, they also benefit from a more phylogenetically dispersed seedling neighborhood. Across species, we did not find evidence that rare species have an advantage relative to more common species, or a community compensatory trend. These results suggest that the local biotic neighborhood is a strong influence on early seedling survival for species that range widely in their abundance and life history. These patterns in seedling survival demonstrate the role of density-dependent seedling dynamics in promoting and maintaining diversity in understory seedling assemblages. The assemblage-wide impacts of species abundance distributions may multiply with repeated cycles of recruitment and density-dependent seedling mortality and impact forest diversity or the abundance of individual species over longer time scales.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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