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News Article

Legume density in forests

Nitrogen fixing plants more dominant in regenerating forests

Areas of forest which have been cleared and then abandoned as pasture often suffer from poor water availability and low-nutrient soils, making secondary forest generation challenging for some species. However, a recent report published in Nature Ecology & Evolution by researchers at the University of Stirling has suggested that trees belonging to the Leguminosae family may be the answer.

Legumes are an incredibly large and economically valuable family, containing crops we might recognise generally as peas and beans, such as soybean and chickpea. It is very prevalent in tropical rainforests, though as the third largest land plant family, members of the Leguminosae can also be found globally.

Researchers collected 42 forest chronosequences from across the Neotropics in order to record the relative dominance of legume trees across varying stages of forest regeneration. The results showed that in the first 30 years of natural forest regeneration the basal area of legumes in dry secondary forests is twice that in wet ones, reflecting their ability to tolerate drought more than other species. Legumes are able to survive these challenging conditions through a combination of greater nutritional access in the poor soils compared to other species and higher water-usage efficiency due to their compound leaves possessing small leaflets.

Dr Daisy Dent, a Lecturer in Tropical Ecology within Stirling's Faculty of Natural Sciences said: "This is a huge collaborative effort that indicates the benefits of collating data to generate broad-scale regional datasets that have significantly greater impact than studies from individual sites."

In a forest environment, tropical trees are partially provided with nutrients by neighbouring legume trees capable of fixing nitrogen through symbiotic bacteria in their root systems. Therefore during regeneration especially, the presence of legumes is to the benefit of the forest as a whole. This makes understanding how the dominance of these important tree species changes in response to the conditions of forest regeneration highly important for a more informed understanding of forest regeneration. Therefore the authors suggest that future modelling of tropical forest capacity for nitrogen fixation should take these successional and climatic patterns for the dominance of legumes into account.


Read the original press release here:


Read the full paper below:

Maga Gei, Danaë M. A. Rozendaal, Lourens Poorter, Frans Bongers, Janet I. Sprent, Mira D. Garner, T. Mitchell Aide, José Luis Andrade, Patricia Balvanera, Justin M. Becknell, Pedro H. S. Brancalion, George A. L. Cabral, Ricardo Gomes César, Robin L. Chazdon, Rebecca J. Cole, Gabriel Dalla Colletta, Ben de Jong, Julie S. Denslow, Daisy H. Dent, Saara J. DeWalt, Juan Manuel Dupuy, Sandra M. Durán, Mário Marcos do Espírito Santo, G. Wilson Fernandes, Yule Roberta Ferreira Nunes, Bryan Finegan, Vanessa Granda Moser, Jefferson S. Hall, José Luis Hernández-Stefanoni, André B. Junqueira, Deborah Kennard, Edwin Lebrija-Trejos, Susan G. Letcher, Madelon Lohbeck, Erika Marín-Spiotta, Miguel Martínez-Ramos, Jorge A. Meave, Duncan N. L. Menge, Francisco Mora, Rodrigo Muñoz, Robert Muscarella, Susana Ochoa-Gaona, Edith Orihuela-Belmonte, Rebecca Ostertag, Marielos Peña-Claros, Eduardo A. Pérez-García, Daniel Piotto, Peter B. Reich, Casandra Reyes-García, Jorge Rodríguez-Velázquez, I. Eunice Romero-Pérez, Lucía Sanaphre-Villanueva, Arturo Sanchez-Azofeifa, Naomi B. Schwartz, Arlete Silva de Almeida, Jarcilene S. Almeida-Cortez, Whendee Silver, Vanessa de Souza Moreno, Benjamin W. Sullivan, Nathan G. Swenson, Maria Uriarte, Michiel van Breugel, Hans van der Wal, Maria das Dores Magalhães Veloso, Hans F. M. Vester, Ima Célia Guimarães Vieira, Jess K. Zimmerman, Jennifer S. Powers. Legume abundance along successional and rainfall gradients in Neotropical forests. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 2018; DOI: 10.1038/s41559-018-0559-6


To find over 1300 similar papers use the search string below in the Forest Science Database: ("Neotropical" OR "tropical") AND ("tree*" OR "forest*") AND ("restoration ecology" OR "ecological restoration" OR "regeneration surveys" OR "regenerative ability" OR "forest regeneration")