• Cynodon plectostachyus;
  • ecological restoration;
  • land-use history;
  • seedling performance;
  • soil properties;
  • tree plantations

The rainforest of Mexico has been degraded and severely fragmented, and urgently require restoration. However, the practice of restoration has been limited by the lack of species-specific data on survival and growth responses to local environmental variation. This study explores the differential performance of 14 wet tropical early-, mid- or late-successional tree species that were grown in two abandoned pastures with contrasting land-use histories. After 18 months, seedling survival and growth of at least 7 of the 14 tree species studied were significantly higher in the site with a much longer history of land use (site 2). Saplings of the three early-successional species showed exceptional growth rates. However, differences in performance were noted in relation to the differential soil properties between the experimental sites. Mid-successional species generally showed slow growth rates but high seedling survival, whereas late-successional species exhibited poor seedling survival at both the study sites. Stepwise linear regressions revealed that the species integrated response index combining survivorship and growth measurements, was influenced mostly by differences in soil pH between the two abandoned pastures. Our results suggest that local environmental variation among abandoned pastures of contrasting land-use histories influences sapling survival and growth. Furthermore, the similarity of responses among species with the same successional status allowed us to make some preliminary site and species-specific silvicultural recommendations. Future field experiments should extend the number of species and the range of environmental conditions to identify site “generalists” or more narrowly adapted species, that we would call “sensitive.”