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Early Successional Patterns and Potential Facilitation of Woody Plant Colonization by Rotting Logs in Premontane Costa Rican Pastures


Address correspondence to C. J. Peterson, email


We examined the size, species, location (x and y coordinates), and microsite inhabited by colonizing trees and shrubs in five abandoned pastures in southern Costa Rica. All woody stems greater than 1 m tall in the pastures were measured and mapped, from the overhanging forest edge to 50 m into the abandoned pasture. Species composition of colonists differed substantially among pastures: Croton draco (Euphorbiaceae) dominated one site, two species of Miconia (Melastomataceae) another site, and Verbesina tapentiensis (Asteraceae) a third site. Site 4 had the highest cover of rotting logs (11%), and a four-fold greater density of colonizing woody plants than the site with the next highest colonist density. For all species pooled, and for several individual taxa, density was positively correlated across sites with abundance of log microsites.

Four of the six most common woody species in site 4 occurred on logs significantly more often than expected had they been randomly distributed relative to logs. Site 5 had less abundance of logs, but the common Miconia species was again significantly more likely to be found on log microsites. These results strongly suggest that rotting wood microsites facilitate establishment of bird-dispersed pioneer trees, which in turn could foster regrowth of other forest species.