Effects of topographic position, leaf litter and seed size on seedling demography in a semi-deciduous tropical forest in Panamá

Matthew I. Daws, Timothy R.H. Pearson, David F.R.P. Burslem, Christopher E. Mullins, James W. Dalling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study examined whether topography-induced gradients in water potential and leaf litter depth contribute to species coexistence in tropical forests through species-specific effects on seedling emergence and mortality. Seedling emergence and mortality were followed for a period of 12 months in 36 (1 × 2 m) plots on Barro Colorado Island (BCI), Panamá. Plots with and without litter were distributed on slope and plateau sites in three catchments. In the absence of manipulations, the lower litter depth on slopes resulted in approximately four times as many emergent seedlings than on plateau sites. However, litter depth had little effect on seedling community composition. By the end of the first dry-season, post-emergence, there were no significant differences in surviving seedling numbers between any treatments. There were differences in the emergent seedling community between slope and plateau sites within the same catchment as well as differences in composition between catchments, suggesting that both niche partitioning and dispersal limitation might play a role in structuring seedling community composition. During the wet-season seedling mortality was highest on slope sites although this pattern was reversed during the dry-season. In both seasons mortality was higher for small-seeded species. These results demonstrate that gradients in water potential related to topography impact on patterns of seedling emergence and mortality although processes in the first year after emergence may be insufficient to explain observed habitat preferences of adult plants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)93-105
Number of pages13
JournalPlant Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2005


  • Mortality
  • Niche differentiation
  • Seedling
  • Topographic position
  • Water potential

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


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