Spatial patterns of tropical forest trees in Western Polynesia suggest recruitment limitations during secondary succession

Janet Franklin, Sergio J. Rey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Spatial analysis can be used to relate the patterns of tree species to their regeneration syndromes - pioneer to late-successional - and is a first step in refining hypotheses about the species traits and biotic and abiotic factors that give rise to forest community dynamics. This study examines the spatial pattern of the most abundant trees in three 0.45-ha plots in species-poor lowland rain forests on oceanic islands in Tonga, Western Polynesia, that experience frequent natural disturbance and have a 3000-y history of shifting cultivation. We contrast secondary vs. remnant late-successional forest, with particular attention paid to the spatial dispersion and clustering of tree species, and the presence of spatial dependence in the density of seedlings and saplings. Shade-tolerant species were not strongly clustered at any scale. They did not appear to be dispersal limited, in late successional forest, and only some showed patterns consistent with density-dependent mortality (more clumped when small). Shade-tolerant species were more clumped in secondary forest, and may be dispersal-limited there because vertebrate dispersers prefer primary forest. Shade-intolerant species were clumped in gaps in late-successional forest, but some were also clumped in secondary forest, indicating that they too may be dispersal limited during secondary succession. We also compared the species composition of seedlings and saplings in the centre of plots with trees in the surrounding area and inferred that active dispersal (by vertebrate frugivores) contributed as much as 50% to site species richness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Tropical Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Autocorrelation
  • Density dependence
  • Dispersal
  • Moran's I
  • Point pattern
  • Polynesia
  • Recruitment
  • Ripley's K
  • Spatial dependence
  • Spatial regression
  • Tonga
  • Tropical forest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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