Consequences of changing rainfall for fungal pathogen-induced mortality in tropical tree seedlings

Authors


  • Funded by a NERC research studentship (NE/F008759/1) and NERC Standard Grant NE/D010721/1 to O. T. L. and R. P. F.

Tom Swinfield, Department of Animal and Plant Science, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, S10 2TN, United Kingdom. Tel: +44(0)114 222 0017; Fax: +44(0)114 222 0002; E-mail: tomswinfield@gmail.com

Abstract

Most general circulation models predict that most tropical forests will experience lower and less frequent rainfall in future as a result of climate change, which may reduce the capacity of fungal pathogens to drive density-dependent tree mortality. This is potentially significant because fungal pathogens are thought to play a key role in promoting and structuring plant diversity in tropical forests through the Janzen–Connell mechanism. Therefore, we hypothesize that the drying of tropical forests will negatively impact species coexistence. To test one prediction of this hypothesis, we imposed experimental watering regimes on the seedlings of a tropical tree, Pleradenophora longicuspis, and measured mortality induced by fungal pathogens under shade house conditions. The frequency of watering had a strong impact on survival. Seedlings watered daily experienced significantly higher mortality than those watered every three or every six days, while increasing the volume of water applied also led to increased mortality, although this relationship was less pronounced. These results suggest that the capacity of fungal pathogens to drive density-dependent mortality may be reduced in drier climates and when rainfall is less frequent, with potential implications for the diversity enhancing Janzen–Connell mechanism.

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