Functional regeneration and spectral reflectance of trees during succession in a highly diverse tropical dry forest ecosystem

Mariana Y. Alvarez-Añorve, Mauricio Quesada, G. Arturo Sánchez-Azofeifa, Luis Daniel Avila-Cabadilla, John A. Gamon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Premise of the study: The function of most ecosystems has been altered by human activities. To asses the recovery of plant communities, we must evaluate the recovery of plant functional traits. The seasonally dry tropical forest (SDTF), a highly threatened ecosystem, is assumed to recover relatively quickly from disturbance, but an integrated evaluation of recovery in floristic, structural, functional terms has not been performed. In this study we aimed to (a) compare SDTF plant functional, floristic, structural change along succession; (b) identify tree functional groups; and (c) explore the spectral properties of different successional stages. Methods: Across a SDTF successional gradient, we evaluated the change of species composition, vegetation structure, leaf spectral reflectance and functional traits (related to water use, light acquisition, nutrient conservation, CO 2 acquisition) of 25 abundant tree species. Key results: A complete recovery of SDTF takes longer than the time period inferred from floristic or structural data. Plant functional traits changed along succession from those that maximize photoprotection and heat dissipation in early succession, where temperature is an environmental constraint, to those that enhance light acquisition in late succession, where light may be limiting. A spectral indicator of plant photosynthetic performance (photochemical reflectance index) discriminated between early and late succession. This constitutes a foundation for further exploration of remote sensing technologies for studying tropical succession. Conclusions: A functional approach should be incorporated as a regular descriptor of forest succession because it provides a richer understanding of vegetation dynamics than is offered by either the floristic or structural approach alone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)816-826
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Journal of Botany
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Functional groups
  • Leaf reflectance
  • Photochemical reflectance index (PRI)
  • Photosynthesis
  • Plant functional traits
  • Secondary tropical forests
  • Successional stages discrimination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science


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