Ecosystem Processes and Biogeochemical Cycles in Secondary Tropical Forest Succession

Jennifer S. Powers, Erika Marín-Spiotta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


Secondary tropical forests that are in a state of regeneration following clearing for agriculture are now more abundant than primary forests. Yet, despite their large spatial extent and important role in the global carbon (C) cycle, secondary tropical forests are understudied, which challenges our ability to predict how tropical landscapes will respond to future disturbance and global change. We summarize research advances on alterations to C and nutrient dynamics during reforestation and how these are influenced by ecosystem state factors. During forest succession, aboveground biomass stocks and litter fluxes increase in a predictable way, but patterns in soil C dynamics are highly variable. The heterogeneous response of nutrients to reforestation is influenced by multiple factors, including losses incurred during prior land use and management. In contrast to primary tropical forests, where productivity is often limited by rock-derived nutrients, secondary forest growth may be more limited by nutrients from the atmosphere. Future research should identify which nutrients constrain forest regrowth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)497-519
Number of pages23
JournalAnnual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics
StatePublished - Nov 2 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Both authors contributed equally to this work. We acknowledge support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Coupled Human Natural Systems Research Coordination Network Grant 1313788 to Principal Investigator R.L. Chazdon; NSF CAREER Grant Division of Environmental Biology 1053237 to J.S.P.; US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, Terrestrial Ecosystem Science Program under award number DESC0014363 to J.S.P.; and NSF CAREER Grant Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences 1349952 to E.M.S. We thank Sarah Hobbie for comments that improved the review.


  • Biogeochemistry
  • Nutrient cycling
  • Reforestation
  • Regeneration
  • Tropics


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