Early recruitment dynamics in tropical restoration

Unassisted secondary succession in abandoned tropical pastures often results in species-poor forests of pioneer trees that persist for decades. We characterize recruitment rates of woody vegetation in planting treatments during the first 60 months of experimental restoration on thin, eroded soils at Los Tuxtlas, southern Mexico. We test the hypothesis that recruitment of later-successional trees is greater in fenced plots planted with native trees than in fenced controls that simulate natural succession, and further that recruitment of such species would be greater in plots planted with animal-dispersed trees than in those planted with wind-dispersed trees. Results indicated much greater recruitment of later-successional animal-dispersed trees in planted plots as compared with controls. Three censuses per year recorded 960 recruited individuals of 44 species of trees and shrubs from 20–60 months after cattle exclusion. Ninetysix percent of recruits were not of planted species. Repeated-measures analyses of variance indicated that recruited communities included more species of pioneers than of latersuccessional trees and shrubs, with more individuals and species dispersed by animals than by wind. Recruitment of pioneers did not differ between control and planted plots. Latersuccessional recruits dispersed by animals accumulated .10 times faster in planted than control plots, with apparent acceleration after planted Cecropia obtusifolia and Ficus yoponensis first produced fleshy fruits 48 months after cattle exclusion. Sparse latersuccessional wind-dispersed recruits did not differ by treatment. Our preliminary results over the first five years after cattle exclusion indicate that planted stands clearly accelerate succession through accumulation of later-successional trees and shrubs dispersed by animals.