Tree–Shrub Interactions During Early Secondary Forest Succession in Uganda

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Abstract

Abstract One of the greatest challenges for ecologists this century will be restoring forests on degraded tropical lands. This restoration will require understanding complex processes that shape successional pathways, including interactions between trees and other plants. Shrub species often quickly invade disturbed tropical lands, yet little is known about whether they facilitate or inhibit subsequent tree recruitment and growth. We examined how shrubs and other vegetation (e.g., vines, grasses, herbs) affect tree recruitment, survival, and growth during the first 6 years of forest succession in Kibale National Park, Uganda. The study was undertaken in two recently logged exotic softwood plantations. We studied the successional trajectories in two recently logged areas that varied in their initial densities of trees and shrubs. Analyses suggested tree seedling presence and density were not strongly related to shrub density or height during succession. Tree sapling presence and density were positively significantly related to shrub density and height. We found little response in the tree community to experimental shrub removal, and although removal of all nontree vegetation temporarily enhanced tree growth, the effect disappeared after 2 years. Some early-successional trees benefited from reduced competition, whereas some mid-successional trees benefited from the presence of other vegetation. Some specific tree species responded strongly to vegetation removal. We interpret our findings in light of designing manipulations promoting forest restoration for biodiversity conservation and conclude with four tentative guidelines: (1) manage at the species level, not the community level; (2) increase facilitation for seedlings, reduce competition for saplings; (3) be cautious of assumptions about plant interactions; and (4) be adaptable and creative with new strategies when manipulations fail.

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