Climate sensitive size-dependent survival in tropical trees

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Abstract

Survival rates of large trees determine forest biomass dynamics. Survival rates of small trees have been linked to mechanisms that maintain biodiversity across tropical forests. How species survival rates change with size offers insight into the links between biodiversity and ecosystem function across tropical forests. We tested patterns of size-dependent tree survival across the tropics using data from 1,781 species and over 2 million individuals to assess whether tropical forests can be characterized by size-dependent life-history survival strategies. We found that species were classifiable into four ‘survival modes’ that explain life-history variation that shapes carbon cycling and the relative abundance within forests. Frequently collected functional traits, such as wood density, leaf mass per area and seed mass, were not generally predictive of the survival modes of species. Mean annual temperature and cumulative water deficit predicted the proportion of biomass of survival modes, indicating important links between evolutionary strategies, climate and carbon cycling. The application of survival modes in demographic simulations predicted biomass change across forest sites. Our results reveal globally identifiable size-dependent survival strategies that differ across diverse systems in a consistent way. The abundance of survival modes and interaction with climate ultimately determine forest structure, carbon storage in biomass and future forest trajectories.

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Fig. 1: Schematic of the workflow for this analysis.
Fig. 2: Survival probability as a function of DBH for each of the four identified survival modes.
Fig. 3: Mean annual aboveground carbon loss to mortality.
Fig. 4: In general, traits do not map strongly onto the four survival modes.
Fig. 5: Average annual individual growth rate by survival mode.
Fig. 6: Observed versus predicted biomass.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank the many people involved in establishing and maintaining all the plots utilized in these analyses. A detailed list of funding sources for each plot is available in the Supplementary Information. The development of this project benefited from ForestGEO workshops in 2015, 2016 and 2017 (NSF DEB-1046113 to S.J.D.). Contributions by C.X., J.Q.C., S.J.D. and N.M. were supported by the Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiments (NGEE-Tropics) project, funded by the US Department of Energy, Office of Biological and Environmental Research. S.M.M. was partially funded by NSF - EF1137366. D.J.J. was supported by Los Alamos National Laboratory (Director’s Post-doctoral Fellowship).

Author information

D.J.J., J.N., C.X., N.M. and S.M.M. conceived and designed the analyses, D.J.J. and J.N. performed the analyses, D.J.J., C.X., S.J.D., N.M., J.N., S.M.M. wrote the initial draft. E.C.M. and C.X. provided FATES simulations. K.J.A.-T., S.B., C.H.C.-Y., J.Q.C., J.-M.C., G.B.C., R.C., S.C., C.F., F.I.-N., C.P.G., S.G., N.G., T.W.G., C.-F.H., S.H., A.R.K., M.K., D.K., C.M.L., S.L., E.C.M., M.M., N.G.M., P.S.O., R.O., L.S., N.G.S., I.F.S., S.T., D.W.T., J.T., M.N.U., M.U., R.V., S.Y. and J.K.Z. contributed data, provided site-specific information and helped revise the manuscript. All authors contributed to the final version of the manuscript.

Correspondence to Daniel J. Johnson.

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Johnson, D.J., Needham, J., Xu, C. et al. Climate sensitive size-dependent survival in tropical trees. Nat Ecol Evol 2, 1436–1442 (2018) doi:10.1038/s41559-018-0626-z

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