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Aboveground net primary productivity in regenerating seasonally dry tropical forest: contributions of rainfall, forest age, and soil


Becknell, Justin et al. (2021), Aboveground net primary productivity in regenerating seasonally dry tropical forest: contributions of rainfall, forest age, and soil, Dryad, Dataset,


Identifying factors controlling forest productivity is critical to understanding forest-climate change feedbacks, modeling vegetation dynamics, and carbon finance schemes. However, little research has focused on productivity in regenerating tropical forest which are expanding in their fraction of global area have an order of magnitude larger carbon uptake rates relative to older forest.

We examined aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP) and its components (wood production and litterfall) over ten years in forest plots that vary in successional age, soil characteristics, and species composition using band dendrometers and litterfall traps in regenerating seasonally dry tropical forests in northwestern Costa Rica.

We show that the components of ANPP are differentially driven by age and annual rainfall and that local soil variation is important. Total ANPP was explained by a combination of age, annual rainfall, and soil variation. Wood production comprised 35% of ANPP on average across sites and years, and was explained by annual rainfall but not forest age. Conversely, litterfall increased with forest age and soil fertility yet was not affected by annual rainfall. In this region, edaphic variability is highly correlated with plant community composition. Thus, variation in ecosystem processes explained by soil may also be partially explained by species composition.

These results suggest that future changes in annual rainfall can alter the secondary forest carbon sink, but that this effect will be buffered by the litterfall flux which varies little among years. In determining the long-term strength of the secondary forest carbon sink, both rainfall and forest age will be critical variables to track. We also conclude that a detailed understanding of local site variation in soils and plant communities may be required to accurately predict the impact of changing rainfall on forest carbon uptake.

Synthesis We show that in seasonally dry tropical forests, annual rainfall has a positive relationship with the growth of aboveground woody tissues of trees and that droughts lead to significant reductions in aboveground productivity. These results provide evidence for climate change – carbon cycle feedbacks in the seasonal tropics and highlight the value of longitudinal data on forest regeneration.


U.S. Department of Energy, Award: DE‐SC0014363

Division of Environmental Biology, Award: DEB‐1053237