Assessing the recovery of species diversity and composition after major disturbance is key to understanding the resilience of tropical forests through successional processes, and its importance for biodiversity conservation. Despite the specific abiotic environment and ecological processes of tropical dry forests, secondary succession has received less attention in this biome than others and changes in species diversity and composition have never been synthesised in a systematic and quantitative review. This study aims to assess in tropical dry forests 1) the directionality of change in species richness and evenness during secondary succession, 2) the convergence of species composition towards that of old-growth forest and 3) the importance of the previous land use, precipitation regime and water availability in influencing the direction and rate of change. We conducted meta-analyses of the rate of change in species richness, evenness and composition indices with succession in 13 tropical dry forest chronosequences. Species richness increased with succession, showing a gradual accumulation of species, as did Shannon evenness index. The similarity in species composition of successional forests with old-growth forests increased with succession, yet at a low rate. Tropical dry forests therefore do show resilience of species composition but it may never reach that of old-growth forests. We found no significant differences in rates of change between different previous land uses, precipitation regimes or water availability. Our results show high resilience of tropical dry forests in term of species richness but a slow recovery of species composition. They highlight the need for further research on secondary succession in this biome and better understanding of impacts of previous land-use and landscape-scale patterns. Synthesis Secondary forests account for an increasing proportion of remaining tropical forest. Assessing their resilience is key to conservation of their biodiversity. Our study is the first meta-analysis of species changes during succession focussing on tropical dry forests, a highly threatened yet understudied biome. We show a gradual species accumulation and convergence of composition towards that of old-growth forests. While secondary tropical dry forests offer good potential for biodiversity conservation, their capacity for recovery at a sufficient rate to match threats is uncertain. Further research on this biome is needed to understand the effect of land use history and landscape processes.
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© 2016 The Authors