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Feedbacks between phosphorus deposition and canopy cover: The emergence of multiple stable states in tropical dry forests


Marcia DeLonge, e-mail:


Dry forests represent a large percentage of tropical forests and are vulnerable to both anthropogenic and natural disturbances, yet important aspects of their sensitivity to disruption remain poorly understood. It is particularly unclear how changes in land-use or tropical storm patterns may affect the resiliency of phosphorus (P)-limited neotropical forests. In these systems, vegetation is sustained in the long-term by atmospheric P-inputs through rainfall, dust, or fog. Past research supports the idea that dust and fog deposition are dependent on canopy density (e.g. leaf area index). Thus, the canopy may function as a ‘trap’ for P, enabling a positive feedback between vegetation and P-deposition. We developed a conceptual model to investigate how Neotropical vegetation may respond to reduced P-deposition due to canopy losses. The model suggests that a canopy-deposition feedback may induce bistable vegetation dynamics; under some conditions, forests may be unable to naturally recover from relatively small disturbances.

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