Seedling dynamics were followed in a Puerto Rican forest for 20 months following a severe hurricane to study the interactive effects of hurricane debris, nutrients, and light on seedling diversity, density, growth, and mortality. Three treatments (debris removal, an unaltered control with hurricane debris, and chemical fertilization added to hurricane debris) altered levels of forest debris and soil nutrients. Canopy openness was measured twice using hemispherical photographs of the canopy. We examined the demographic responses of six common species to treatments over time. Seedling densities increased for all six species but the only significant treatment effects were increased densities of the pioneer tree Cecropia and the shrub Palicourea in the debris removal treatment. Seedling growth declined with declining light levels for four species but not for the pioneer tree Alchornea or the non-pioneer tree Dacryodes. Only Cecropia and the non-pioneer tree Chionanthus had treatment effects on growth. Mortality also differed among species and tended to be highest in the fertilized plots for all but Cecropia and Dacryodes. We found only some of the expected differences between pioneer and non-pioneer plants, as each species had a unique response to the patchy distributions of organic debris, nutrients, and light following the hurricane. High local species diversity was maintained through the individualistic responses of seedlings after a disturbance.
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Vol. 35 • No. 4