Climate is a stronger driver of tree and forest growth rates than soil and disturbance

Authors

  • Marisol Toledo,

    Corresponding author
    1. Forest Ecology and Forest Management Group, Centre for Ecosystem Studies, Wageningen University, PO Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, the Netherlands
    2. Instituto Boliviano de Investigación Forestal (IBIF), Casilla 6204, Santa Cruz, Bolivia
      Correspondence author. E-mail: mtoledo@ibifbolivia.org.bo
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Lourens Poorter,

    1. Forest Ecology and Forest Management Group, Centre for Ecosystem Studies, Wageningen University, PO Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, the Netherlands
    2. Instituto Boliviano de Investigación Forestal (IBIF), Casilla 6204, Santa Cruz, Bolivia
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Marielos Peña-Claros,

    1. Forest Ecology and Forest Management Group, Centre for Ecosystem Studies, Wageningen University, PO Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, the Netherlands
    2. Instituto Boliviano de Investigación Forestal (IBIF), Casilla 6204, Santa Cruz, Bolivia
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Alfredo Alarcón,

    1. Instituto Boliviano de Investigación Forestal (IBIF), Casilla 6204, Santa Cruz, Bolivia
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Julio Balcázar,

    1. Instituto Boliviano de Investigación Forestal (IBIF), Casilla 6204, Santa Cruz, Bolivia
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Claudio Leaño,

    1. Instituto Boliviano de Investigación Forestal (IBIF), Casilla 6204, Santa Cruz, Bolivia
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Juan Carlos Licona,

    1. Instituto Boliviano de Investigación Forestal (IBIF), Casilla 6204, Santa Cruz, Bolivia
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Oscar Llanque,

    1. Asociación PROMAB, Av. Del Ejército Final, Campus Universitario, Beni, Bolivia
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Vincent Vroomans,

    1. Instituto Boliviano de Investigación Forestal (IBIF), Casilla 6204, Santa Cruz, Bolivia
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Pieter Zuidema,

    1. Asociación PROMAB, Av. Del Ejército Final, Campus Universitario, Beni, Bolivia
    2. Ecology and Biodiversity, Institute of Environmental Biology, Utrecht University, Padualaan 8, 3584 CH Utrecht, the Netherlands
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Frans Bongers

    1. Forest Ecology and Forest Management Group, Centre for Ecosystem Studies, Wageningen University, PO Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, the Netherlands
    Search for more papers by this author

Correspondence author. E-mail: mtoledo@ibifbolivia.org.bo

Summary

1. Essential resources such as water, nutrients and light vary over space and time and plant growth rates are expected to vary accordingly. We examined the effects of climate, soil and logging disturbances on diameter growth rates at the tree and stand level, using 165 1-ha permanent sample plots distributed across Bolivian tropical lowland forests.

2. We predicted that growth rates would be higher in humid than in dry forests, higher in nutrient-rich than nutrient-poor forests and higher in logged than non-logged forests.

3. Across the 165 plots we found positive basal area increases at the stand level, which agree with the generally reported biomass increases in tropical forests.

4. Multiple regression analysis demonstrated that climate variables, in particular water availability, were the strongest drivers of tree growth. More rainfall, a shorter and less intense dry period and higher temperatures led to higher tree growth rates.

5. Tree growth increased modestly with soil fertility and basal area growth was greatest at intermediate soil fertility. Surprisingly, tree growth showed little or no relationship with total soil nitrogen or plant available soil phosphorus.

6. Growth rates increased in logged plots just after logging, but this effect disappeared after 6 years.

7.Synthesis. Climate is the strongest driver of spatial variation in tree growth, and climate change may therefore have large consequences for forest productivity and carbon sequestration. The negative impact of decreased rainfall and increased rainfall seasonality on tree growth might be partly offset by the positive impact of increased temperature in these forests.

Ancillary