Changes in tree phenology along natural regeneration in a seasonally dry tropical forest
The applicability of succession models from temperate and tropical wet forests to threatened seasonally dry tropical forests (SDTFs) is questioned. Plant phenology affects ecosystem functions and changes along forest regeneration gradient. To investigate the recovery of ecological functions after disturbances in a SDTF, we recorded the vegetative and reproductive phenologies for trees (DBH >5 cm) for 17 months in southeast Brazil in three successional stages: early (10–15 years after clearing), intermediate (25–30) and late (>50). The vegetative phenology of the 523 individuals was strongly seasonal, with 3% of individuals presenting green leaves in a deciduous dry season. Besides structural and floristic differences, phenological trends were similar between the later stages. Reproduction occurred with higher intensities in the early stage and in the advanced stages only in the dry season, providing key resources to local fauna. The studied SDTF is resilient to ecological functions, rapidly recovering functional processes. The integration of structural and functional knowledge of succession of STDFs may lead to better management of its secondary remnants. Our study suggests that classical forest succession theory developed for other ecosystems may not fully reflect the pattern of SDTF succession, an ecosystem that originally covered 42% of the earth's tropical and subtropical landmass.