Forest succession on degraded tropical lands often is slowed by impoverished seed banks and low rates of seed dispersal. Within degraded landscapes, remnant forests are potential seed sources that could enhance nearby forest succession. The spatial extent that forest can influence succession, however, remains largely unstudied. In abandoned agricultural lands in Kibale National Park, Uganda, recurrent fires have helped perpetuate the dominance of tall (2–3 m) grasses. We examined the effects of distance from forest and grassland vegetation structure on succession in a grassland having several years of fire exclusion. At 10 and 25 m from forest edge, we quantified vegetation patterns, seed predation, and survival of planted tree seedlings. Natural vegetation was similar at both distances, as was seed (eight species) and seedling (six species) survival; however, distance may be important at spatial or temporal scales not examined in this study. Our results offer insight into forest succession on degraded tropical grasslands following fire exclusion. Naturally recruited trees and tree seedlings were scarce, and seed survival was low (20% after 7 mo). While seedling survival was high (95% after 6 to 8 mo), seedling shoot growth was very slow (x̄ = 0.5 cm/100 d), suggesting that survivorship eventually may decline. Recurrent fires often impede forest succession in degraded tropical grasslands; however, even with fire exclusion, our study suggests that forest succession can be very slow, even in close proximity to forest.
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Vol. 32 • No. 1