Functional recovery of secondary tropical forests

Lourens Poorter, Danaë M.A. Rozendaal, Frans Bongers, S. Almeida de Jarcilene, Francisco S. Àlvarez, Josè Luìs Andrade, Luis Felipe Arreola Villa, Justin M. Becknell, Radika Bhaskar, Vanessa Boukili, Pedro H.S. Brancalion, Ricardo G. Cèsar, Jerome Chave, Robin L. Chazdon, Gabriel Dalla Colletta, Dylan Craven, Ben H.J. de Jong, Julie S. Denslow, Daisy H. Dent, Saara J. DeWaltElisa Dìaz Garcìa, Juan Manuel Dupuy, Sandra M. Duràn, Màrio M. Espìrito Santo, Geraldo Wilson Fernandes, Bryan Finegan, Vanessa Granda Moser, Jefferson S. Hall, Josè Luis Hernàndez-Stefanoni, Catarina C. Jakovac, Deborah Kennard, Edwin Lebrija-Trejos, Susan G. Letcher, Madelon Lohbeck, Omar R. Lopez, Erika Marìn-Spiotta, Miguel Martìnez-Ramos, Jorge A. Meave, Francisco Mora, Vanessa de Souza Moreno, Sandra C. Müller, Rodrigo Muñoz, Robert Muscarella, Yule R.F. Nunes, Susana Ochoa-Gaona, Rafael S. Oliveira, Horacio Paz, Arturo Sanchez-Azofeifa, Lucìa Sanaphre-Villanueva, Marisol Toledo, Maria Uriarte, Luis P. Utrera, Michiel van Breugel, Masha T. van der Sande, Maria D.M. Veloso, S. Joseph Wright, Kàtia J. Zanini, Jess K. Zimmerman, Mark Westoby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


One-third of all Neotropical forests are secondary forests that regrow naturally after agricultural use through secondary succession. We need to understand better how and why succession varies across environmental gradients and broad geographic scales. Here, we analyze functional recovery using community data on seven plant characteristics (traits) of 1,016 forest plots from 30 chronosequence sites across the Neotropics. By analyzing communities in terms of their traits, we enhance understanding of the mechanisms of succession, assess ecosystem recovery, and use these insights to propose successful forest restoration strategies. Wet and dry forests diverged markedly for several traits that increase growth rate in wet forests but come at the expense of reduced drought tolerance, delay, or avoidance, which is important in seasonally dry forests. Dry and wet forests showed different successional pathways for several traits. In dry forests, species turnover is driven by drought tolerance traits that are important early in succession and in wet forests by shade tolerance traits that are important later in succession. In both forests, deciduous and compound-leaved trees decreased with forest age, probably because microclimatic conditions became less hot and dry. Our results suggest that climatic water availability drives functional recovery by influencing the start and trajectory of succession, resulting in a convergence of community trait values with forest age when vegetation cover builds up. Within plots, the range in functional trait values increased with age. Based on the observed successional trait changes, we indicate the consequences for carbon and nutrient cycling and propose an ecologically sound strategy to improve forest restoration success.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2003405118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number49
StatePublished - Dec 7 2021
Externally publishedYes

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  • Community assembly
  • Functional traits
  • Rainfall
  • Secondary succession
  • Tropical forest


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