Species diversity, susceptibility to disturbance and tree population dynamics in tropical rain forest

D F R P Burslem, T C Whitmore

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68 Citations (Scopus)


In 1964 a census of all trees > 9.7 cm diameter at breast height (DBH) was conducted on 22 plots totalling 13.2 ha in lowland tropical evergreen rain forest on Kolombangara, Solomon Islands. Over the following 30 yr (1964-1994), populations of all individuals > 4.85 cm DBH of the 12 most common tree species and amounts of disturbance have been monitored on a declining number of these plots (in 1994, nine plots totalling 5.4 ha were still being recorded). Between November 1967 and April 1970, Kolombangara was struck by four cyclones, although only two of these caused substantial amounts of damage to the canopy structure. Multivariate analysis has identified six forest types on Kolombangara (Greig-Smith et al. 1967). The species richness and diversity of trees in the 1964 census, turnover rates of the populations monitored over 1964-1975, and the amount of disturbance sustained during a cyclone in 1970, were arl positively correlated across five of the forest types. The sixth forest type was a consistent outlier in these analyses and is believed to have been seriously disturbed by humans about a century ago. The floristics, turnover and disturbance data support Connell's intermediate disturbance hypothesis. The most species-rich forest types contained a higher proportion of fast-growing individuals and species that are early-successional and which have low density timber. Properties of these species rendered them more susceptible to damage when struck by the 1970 cyclone. They showed higher turnover rates because disturbance-dependent species are also characterised by higher mortality and recruitment rates. Thus, periodic cyclones appear to favour the maintenance of differences in species diversity and composition between forest types.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)767-776
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Vegetation Science
Publication statusPublished - 1999


  • anthropogenic impact
  • cyclone
  • forest dynamics
  • intermediate disturbance hypothesis
  • large-scale disturbance
  • Solomon islands
  • AREA


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