Falling palm fronds structure Amazonian rainforest sapling communities

H. A. Peters, A. Pauw, M. R. Silman, J. W. Terborgh

Abstract

The senescence and loss of photosynthetic and support structures is a nearly universal aspect of tree life history, and can be a major source of disturbance in forest understoreys, but the ability of falling canopy debris in determining the stature and composition of understorey communities seems not to have been documented. In this study, we show that senescent fronds of the palm Iriartea deltoidea cause substantial disturbance in tropical forest sapling communities. This disturbance influences the species composition of the canopy and subcanopy by acting as an ecological filter, favouring sapling species with characteristics conducive to recovery after physical damage. The scale of this dominance suggests that falling I. deltoidea debris may be influencing sapling community structure and species composition in Amazonian rainforests over very large spatial scales.