Plant functional group responses in an African tropical forest recovering from disturbance

TitlePlant functional group responses in an African tropical forest recovering from disturbance
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsEycott, AE, Esaete, J, Reiniö, J, Telford, RJ, Vandvik, V
JournalPlant Ecology & Diversity
Date PublishedApr 2016
Keywordsdispersal, fern, herb, microclimate, microhabitat, pteridophyte, restoration, surrogate, tree, vegetation

Background: Newly protected, tropical forests recovering from logging and clearance are increasingly important targets for conservation. Recovery is typically evaluated or monitored by using a few easily identified species groups, but this may not be sufficient as unmonitored groups of equivalent ecological importance are unlikely to respond in a similar manner due to physiological or dispersal differences.

Aims: We compared four groups of plants: large trees, shrubs and saplings, herbs and ferns in a forest recovering from disturbance. We quantified the relative importance of disturbance history and local environmental conditions in determining species richness and community composition of these groups and assessed whether the groups could act as surrogate indicators for one another.

Methods: Vegetation was surveyed on a gradient of disturbance intensity and recovery time (20–60 years) in Mabira Forest, Uganda. We looked for correlations between species groups in richness or composition across sites and used constrained ordinations to identify important environmental variables.

Results: Neither species richness nor composition patterns were correlated between groups. All groups were weakly related to disturbance history; trees and shrubs were related to soil, herbs to microhabitat and ferns to microclimate.

Conclusions: No group acted as an indicator for another. The relative influence of disturbance and local environmental effects varied in the manner predicted, with disturbance stronger for trees and environment stronger for ferns.