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      Pathogens and insect herbivores drive rainforest plant diversity and composition

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          Abstract

          Tropical forests are important reservoirs of biodiversity, but the processes that maintain this diversity remain poorly understood. The Janzen-Connell hypothesis suggests that specialized natural enemies such as insect herbivores and fungal pathogens maintain high diversity by elevating mortality when plant species occur at high density (negative density dependence; NDD). NDD has been detected widely in tropical forests, but the prediction that NDD caused by insects and pathogens has a community-wide role in maintaining tropical plant diversity remains untested. We show experimentally that changes in plant diversity and species composition are caused by fungal pathogens and insect herbivores. Effective plant species richness increased across the seed-to-seedling transition, corresponding to large changes in species composition. Treating seeds and young seedlings with fungicides significantly reduced the diversity of the seedling assemblage, consistent with the Janzen-Connell hypothesis. Although suppressing insect herbivores using insecticides did not alter species diversity, it greatly increased seedling recruitment and caused a marked shift in seedling species composition. Overall, seedling recruitment was significantly reduced at high conspecific seed densities and this NDD was greatest for the species that were most abundant as seeds. Suppressing fungi reduced the negative effects of density on recruitment, confirming that the diversity-enhancing effect of fungi is mediated by NDD. Our study provides an overall test of the Janzen-Connell hypothesis and demonstrates the crucial role that insects and pathogens have both in structuring tropical plant communities and in maintaining their remarkable diversity.

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          Most cited references 20

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          Primary forests are irreplaceable for sustaining tropical biodiversity.

          Human-driven land-use changes increasingly threaten biodiversity, particularly in tropical forests where both species diversity and human pressures on natural environments are high. The rapid conversion of tropical forests for agriculture, timber production and other uses has generated vast, human-dominated landscapes with potentially dire consequences for tropical biodiversity. Today, few truly undisturbed tropical forests exist, whereas those degraded by repeated logging and fires, as well as secondary and plantation forests, are rapidly expanding. Here we provide a global assessment of the impact of disturbance and land conversion on biodiversity in tropical forests using a meta-analysis of 138 studies. We analysed 2,220 pairwise comparisons of biodiversity values in primary forests (with little or no human disturbance) and disturbed forests. We found that biodiversity values were substantially lower in degraded forests, but that this varied considerably by geographic region, taxonomic group, ecological metric and disturbance type. Even after partly accounting for confounding colonization and succession effects due to the composition of surrounding habitats, isolation and time since disturbance, we find that most forms of forest degradation have an overwhelmingly detrimental effect on tropical biodiversity. Our results clearly indicate that when it comes to maintaining tropical biodiversity, there is no substitute for primary forests.
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            Plant diversity in tropical forests: a review of mechanisms of species coexistence

            Evidence concerning mechanisms hypothesized to explain species coexistence in hyper-diverse communities is reviewed for tropical forest plants. Three hypotheses receive strong support. Niche differences are evident from non-random spatial distributions along micro-topographic gradients and from a survivorship-growth tradeoff during regeneration. Host-specific pests reduce recruitment near reproductive adults (the Janzen-Connell effect), and, negative density dependence occurs over larger spatial scales among the more abundant species and may regulate their populations. A fourth hypothesis, that suppressed understory plants rarely come into competition with one another, has not been considered before and has profound implications for species coexistence. These hypotheses are mutually compatible. Infrequent competition among suppressed understory plants, niche differences, and Janzen-Connell effects may facilitate the coexistence of the many rare plant species found in tropical forests while negative density dependence regulates the few most successful and abundant species.
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              Pervasive density-dependent recruitment enhances seedling diversity in a tropical forest.

              Negative density-dependent recruitment of seedlings, that is, seeds of a given species are less likely to become established seedlings if the density of that species is high, has been proposed to be an important mechanism contributing to the extraordinary diversity of tropical tree communities because it can potentially prevent any particular species from usurping all available space, either in close proximity to seed sources or at relatively larger spatial scales. However, density-dependent recruitment does not necessarily enhance community diversity. Furthermore, although density-dependent effects have been found at some life stages in some species, no study has shown that density-dependent recruitment affects community diversity. Here we report the results of observations in a lowland, moist forest in the Republic of Panamá in which the species identities of 386,027 seeds that arrived at 200 seed traps were compared with the species identities of 13,068 seedlings that recruited into adjacent plots over a 4-year period. Across the 200 sites, recruit seedling diversity was significantly higher than seed diversity. Part of this difference was explained by interspecies differences in average recruitment success. Even after accounting for these differences, however, negative density-dependent recruitment contributes significantly to the increase in diversity from seeds to seedling recruits.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Nature
                Nature
                Springer Science and Business Media LLC
                0028-0836
                1476-4687
                February 2014
                January 22 2014
                February 2014
                : 506
                : 7486
                : 85-88
                Article
                10.1038/nature12911
                24463522
                © 2014

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