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Local neighborhood effects on long-term survival of individual trees in a neotropical forest


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The survival of approximately 235 000 individual tropical trees and saplings in the 50 ha permanent plot on Barro Colorado Island (BCI), Panama was analyzed over a 13-year interval (1982–1995) as a function of four biotic neighborhood variables: (i) total stem density; (ii) conspecific density; (iii) relative plant size; and (iv) relative species richness. These neighborhood variables were measured in annular rings of width 2.5 m, extending 30 m from a given focal plant, and in one more distant annulus at 47.5–50 m. Because survival was spatially autocorrelated, a Gibbs sampler and a Monte Carlo Markov chain method were used for fitting an autologistic regression model to obtain unbiased estimates of parameter variances for hypothesis testing. After pooling all species at the community level, results showed that all four variables had significant and often strong effects on focal plant survival. Three of the four variables had negative effects on focal plant survival; relative plant size was the only variable with a positive effect (18% increase in the survival odds ratio). The variables with a negative effect on the survival odds ratio, in order of their effect strength in the nearest annulus, were: stem density (a 70% reduction in the survival odds ratio), conspecific density (50% reduction) and species richness (13% reduction). A guild-level analysis revealed considerable heterogeneity among guilds in their responses to these variables. For example, survival of gap species showed a much larger positive response to relative plant size than did survival of shade-tolerant species. Survival of shrub species was positively affected by conspecific density, but canopy tree survival was negatively affected. Conspecific density negatively affected survival of rare species much more strongly than survival of common species. The neighborhood effects of conspecific density disappear within approximately 12–15 m of the focal plant. Although locally strong, the rapid spatial decay of these effects raises unanswered questions about their quantitative contribution to the maintenance of tree diversity on landscape scales in the BCI forest.