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Litter dynamics recover faster than arthropod biodiversity during tropical forest succession


Cole, Rebecca (2019), Litter dynamics recover faster than arthropod biodiversity during tropical forest succession, Dryad, Dataset,


Litterfall and litter decomposition are key elements of nutrient cycling in tropical forests, a process in which decomposer communities such as macro-arthropods play a critical role. Understanding the rate and extent to which ecosystem function and biodiversity recover during succession is useful to managing the growing area of tropical successional forest globally. Using a replicated chronosequence of forest succession (5–15, 15–30, 30–45 years, and primary forest) on abandoned pastures in lowland tropical wet forest, we examined litterfall, litter chemistry, and effects of macro-arthropod exclusion on decomposition of two litter types (primary and 5- to 15-years-old secondary forest). Further, we assessed macro-arthropod diversity and community composition across the chronosequence. Overstory cover, litterfall, and litter nutrients reached levels similar to primary forest within 15–30 years. Young secondary forest litter (5–15 years) had lower initial N and P content, higher C:N, and decayed 60 percent faster than primary forest litter. The presence of macro-arthropods strongly mediated decomposition and nutrient release rates, increasing litter mass loss by 35–44 percent, N released by 53 percent, and P release by 84 percent. Forest age had no effect on soil nutrients, rates of litter decomposition, nutrient release, or macro-arthropod influence. In contrast, abundance and community composition of macro-arthropods remained significantly lower and distinct in all ages of secondary compared with primary forest. Order richness was lower in 5–15 years of secondary compared with primary forest. Our results suggest that in highly productive tropical wet forest, functional recovery of litter dynamics precedes recovery of decomposer community structure and biodiversity.


The data are annual leaf litter fall, litter decompostition rate, and arthropod abundances across a replicated chronosequence of tropical forest succession on the Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula. Full details available in published paper.

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National Science Foundation, Award: NSF 10-02586