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Tropical Forest Reorganization after Cyclone and Fire Disturbance in Samoa: Remnant Trees as Biological Legacies

Thomas Elmqvist, Stockholm University
Maria Wall, Stockholm University
Anna-Lena Berggren, Stockholm University
Lisa Blix, Stockholm University
Åsa Fritioff, Stockholm University
Ulrika Rinman, Stockholm University


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In disturbed rain forests, large, living remnant trees may be of significant importance for postdisturbance reorganization either directly, by producing large quantities of seeds, or indirectly, by attracting vertebrate seed dispersers. In addition, remnant trees may also be important in providing a favorable microhabitat for seedlings of late-successional species. This study focused on the role of large remnant trees (> 40 cm dbh) in patterns of regeneration after cyclone and fire damage in the Tafua and Falealupo Rain Forest Preserves, Savaií, Samoa. At Tafua, 10 large trees at each of two sites (one site burned in 1990) were investigated with regard to numbers of species and densities of plants from three different size classes at different distances from remnant trees. At the burned site, both species richness and the densities of plants < 1cm dbh were significantly higher inside the canopies of remnant trees than outside of them. At the unburned site, no or only marginally significant differences were observed. At Falealupo, two burned sites (burned in 1993 and 1998) were investigated using seed traps. At both sites, the seed rain from vertebrate dispersers was disproportionally higher under the canopies of remnant trees than in outside areas. No differences in soil characteristics were found when comparing samples taken from inside and outside canopies. Our results are congruent with the prediction that large remnant trees surviving in severely disturbed rain-forest areas represent biological legacies and serve as nuclei for reorganization. Based on this study and our previous work, we suggest that three factors represent essential components of the spatial resilience of tropical forest ecosystems and should be targeted for active management in tropical forests exposed to large-scale disturbances, particularly fire: remnant trees, refugia, and vertebrate dispersers.

Key words

biological legacies, cyclone, fire, rain forest, remnant trees, reorganization, vertebrate dispersal.

Copyright © 2001 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087