Dwarf palms and cyclanths strongly reduce Neotropical seedling recruitment

Yung Ho Wang, Carol Augspurger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recruitment limitation, which occurs when species either fail to reach regeneration sites or the number of suitable regeneration sites is limited, has been proposed as an important factor that controls population dynamics and species coexistence in tropical moist forests. Dwarf palms in some Neotropical forests dominate the understory strata, and their umbrella-like architecture may intensify understory shade and make the site less suitable for seedling regeneration. In this study we surveyed seedlings under dwarf palms in four habitats at La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica. We compared seedling recruitment in both 2001 and 2002 at non-palm microsites vs microsites under 1) tall dwarf palms, 2) short dwarf palms, and 3) short palms surrounded by dwarf palms. Light environments at non-palm and under-palm sites were quantified with hemispherical photos. Seedling growth, survivorship, density, and species richness all differed significantly among microsites, and were all greatest at non-palm sites and lowest at dense palm sites. Overall, seedling growth, survivorship, density, and species richness were 30%, 50%, 50%, and 40%, respectively, less at under-palm than at non-palm sites. The main restriction by dwarf palms occurred on post-cotyledonous and woody seedlings. Percent canopy openness differed among microsites, and was greatest at non-palm sites and lowest at dense palm sites. However, seedling responses were only weakly correlated with percent canopy openness. These results revealed significant reduction in seedling recruitment under individual dwarf palms, with greatest negative effects where a palm was surrounded by palms. Dwarf palms occur at high density (2611 individuals/ha) and cover 21% of the understory in the four habitats (alluvium, residual flat area, residual slope area, swamp) of the primary forest. Therefore, this negative impact by individual dwarf palms is significant at the landscape scale as well, based on the great dwarf palm density and coverage in the four habitats.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)619-633
Number of pages15
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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