Flowering, seed production, and seedling establishment of tropical forest plants vary tremendously in time and space, contributing to the rich diversity that characterizes tropical forests. This long-term study quantifies this variation in three Neotropical forests in Puerto Rico, Ecuador, and Panama that vary dramatically in climate. Using identical methods at each site, flowering and seed production will be monitored throughout the year and seedling establishment measured annually within large permanent plots where all trees are mapped and measured regularly. High resolution bar code phylogenies and complete measurements of adult and seedling functional traits will add an evolutionary perspective to the current ecological study. The resulting data will be used to test hypotheses relating interannual variation to natural climate cycles or to anthropogenic global change, and to evaluate the importance of spatio-temporal variation in reproduction and establishment to tropical forest diversity.
Understanding tropical plant regeneration is of fundamental and applied importance; tropical forests account for approximately 60% of plant species diversity, 35% of plant productivity, and 25% of plant carbon stores on land. The long-term, quantitative data on reproduction and early regeneration from this study will enable identification of relationships between plant reproduction and climate variation, and prediction of long-term trends. Data and associated analyses are publicly accessible. At least 25 undergraduates and graduate students, including several Hispanics, will receive training at the University of Puerto Rico and Southern Illinois University, and the career progression of one post-doctoral associate from the University California, Davis, will be facilitated.