Seasonal, El Niño and longer term changes in flower and seed production in a moist tropical forest


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It has recently been reported that humid tropical forests are changing rapidly in response to global anthropogenic change and that these forests experience greater tree mortality and even fire during droughts associated with El Niño events. The former reports are controversial largely because a single method has been used – repeated censuses of tree plots. The latter reports focus on recent extreme El Niño events. Here, we show that flower and seed production both increase during El Niño events in an old-growth tropical forest in Panama. Flower production, but not seed production, has also increased over the past 18 years. The sustained increase in flower production was greater for 33 liana species than for 48 tree species. These results indicate that moderate El Niño events favour seed production, document long-term increases in flower production for the first time, and corroborate long-term increases in the importance of lianas using independent methods. Changes in levels of solar irradiance might contribute to all three patterns.