Tropical forest landscape dynamics: population consequences for neotropical lianas, genus Passiflora
Plowes, Robert Merrick
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Treefall gaps in rainforest landscapes play a crucial role in providing opportunities for establishment and growth of rare, light-demanding plants such as Passiflora vines in Corcovado rainforests, Costa Rica. This study considers the interplay of landscape dynamics with plant life history traits and strategies in an ephemeral patch network. In Chapter One, I show how patch quality dynamics and propagule dispersal affect colonization of treefall gaps by Passiflora vitifolia. Recruitment required high patch quality, exceeding 3 hours of sunlight and patches closed after about 6 years. Colonization by seed dispersal (80%) was constrained by patch quality and isolation, while clonal growth from dormant plants (20%) was limited to rare adjacent patches. Since patch turnover is critical in these systems, Chapter Two is focused on factors affecting canopy structure. I showed that prior landuse altered the dynamics of frequent, small-scale disturbances during succession following a single, large deforestation event. Here, I used Landsat subpixel analysis, aerial photographs and field surveys to demonstrate major changes in dynamics of regenerating canopies following release from agricultural activity in 1975. Little work has considered the role of life history traits in persistence of patchy populations, and so in Chapter Three I asked what life history strategies are used by 9 Passiflora species that occur in these transient forest gaps. Although Passiflora species exhibited differences in dormancy or dispersal strategies, abundance was not associated with any one strategy. Elasticities of vital rates (stasis, growth and fecundity) of P.vitifolia differed empirically in old growth and regenerating forests. To explore population responses to changes in landscape parameters or life history strategies, I created a spatially-explicit individual-based model. Simulations indicate that plant types with a dormancy phase have a greater suite of responses since they persist after patch extinction with potential to contribute later through both sexual and asexual dispersal. Plants that rely only on high dispersal were extinction prone in low connectivity landscapes. This novel approach of jointly analyzing spatially-explicit patch parameters and life history traits offers a comprehensive framework for further understanding the effects of patch dynamics on populations.