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Intra-annual plasticity of growth mediates drought resilience over multiple years in tropical seedling communities


O'Brien, Michael J; Ong, Robert; Reynolds, Glen (2017). Intra-annual plasticity of growth mediates drought resilience over multiple years in tropical seedling communities. Global Change Biology, 23(10):4235-4244.

Abstract

Precipitation patterns are changing across the globe causing more severe and frequent drought for many forest ecosystems. Although research has focused on the resistance of tree populations and communities to these novel precipitation regimes, resilience of forests is also contingent on recovery following drought, which remains poorly understood, especially in aseasonal tropical forests. We used rainfall exclusion shelters to manipulate the interannual frequency of drought for diverse seedling communities in a tropical forest and assessed resistance, recovery and resilience of seedling growth and mortality relative to everwet conditions. We found seedlings exposed to recurrent periods of drought altered their growth rates throughout the year relative to seedlings in everwet conditions. During drought periods, seedlings grew slower than seedlings in everwet conditions (i.e., resistance phase) while compensating with faster growth after drought (i.e., recovery phase). However, the response to frequent drought was species dependent as some species grew significantly slower with frequent drought relative to everwet conditions while others grew faster with frequent drought due to overcompensating growth during the recovery phase. In contrast, mortality was unrelated to rainfall conditions and instead correlated with differences in light. Intra-annual plasticity of growth and increased annual growth of some species led to an overall maintenance of growth rates of tropical seedling communities in response to more frequent drought. These results suggest these communities can potentially adapt to predicted climate change scenarios and that plasticity in the growth of species, and not solely changes in mortality rates among species, may contribute to shifts in community composition under drought.

Abstract

Precipitation patterns are changing across the globe causing more severe and frequent drought for many forest ecosystems. Although research has focused on the resistance of tree populations and communities to these novel precipitation regimes, resilience of forests is also contingent on recovery following drought, which remains poorly understood, especially in aseasonal tropical forests. We used rainfall exclusion shelters to manipulate the interannual frequency of drought for diverse seedling communities in a tropical forest and assessed resistance, recovery and resilience of seedling growth and mortality relative to everwet conditions. We found seedlings exposed to recurrent periods of drought altered their growth rates throughout the year relative to seedlings in everwet conditions. During drought periods, seedlings grew slower than seedlings in everwet conditions (i.e., resistance phase) while compensating with faster growth after drought (i.e., recovery phase). However, the response to frequent drought was species dependent as some species grew significantly slower with frequent drought relative to everwet conditions while others grew faster with frequent drought due to overcompensating growth during the recovery phase. In contrast, mortality was unrelated to rainfall conditions and instead correlated with differences in light. Intra-annual plasticity of growth and increased annual growth of some species led to an overall maintenance of growth rates of tropical seedling communities in response to more frequent drought. These results suggest these communities can potentially adapt to predicted climate change scenarios and that plasticity in the growth of species, and not solely changes in mortality rates among species, may contribute to shifts in community composition under drought.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
590 Animals (Zoology)
Language:English
Date:February 2017
Deposited On:20 Mar 2017 11:52
Last Modified:12 Sep 2017 01:01
Publisher:Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Inc.
ISSN:1354-1013
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.13658

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Embargo till: 2018-03-06