Impacts of climate variability on tree demography in second growth tropical forests: the importance of regional context for predicting successional trajectories

María Uriarte, Naomi Schwartz, Jennifer S. Powers, Erika Marín-Spiotta, Wenying Liao, Leland K. Werden

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Naturally regenerating and restored second growth forests account for over 70% of tropical forest cover and provide key ecosystem services. Understanding climate change impacts on successional trajectories of these ecosystems is critical for developing effective large-scale forest landscape restoration (FLR) programs. Differences in environmental conditions, species composition, dynamics, and landscape context from old growth forests may exacerbate climate impacts on second growth stands. We compile data from 112 studies on the effects of natural climate variability, including warming, droughts, fires, and cyclonic storms, on demography and dynamics of second growth forest trees and identify variation in forest responses across biomes, regions, and landscapes. Across studies, drought decreases tree growth, survival, and recruitment, particularly during early succession, but the effects of temperature remain unexplored. Shifts in the frequency and severity of disturbance alter successional trajectories and increase the extent of second growth forests. Vulnerability to climate extremes is generally inversely related to long-term exposure, which varies with historical climate and biogeography. The majority of studies, however, have been conducted in the Neotropics hindering generalization. Effects of fire and cyclonic storms often lead to positive feedbacks, increasing vulnerability to climate extremes and subsequent disturbance. Fragmentation increases forests’ vulnerability to fires, wind, and drought, while land use and other human activities influence the frequency and intensity of fire, potentially retarding succession. Comparative studies of climate effects on tropical forest succession across biogeographic regions are required to forecast the response of tropical forest landscapes to future climates and to implement effective FLR policies and programs in these landscapes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)780-797
Number of pages18
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We acknowledge support from NSF CNH-RCN Grant 1313788 to R. L. Chazdon, NSF EF Macrosystems 1137239 to MU, NSF CAREER Grant DEB 1053237 to JSP and NSF CAREER Grant BCS 1349952 to EMS. Comments from R. L. Chazdon and an anonymous reviewer improved the manuscript. Corey Breseman produced Fig.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 The Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation


  • Drought
  • fire
  • hurricanes
  • regrowth forests
  • warming


Dive into the research topics of 'Impacts of climate variability on tree demography in second growth tropical forests: the importance of regional context for predicting successional trajectories'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this