Seed fate and seedling dynamics after masting in two African rain forest trees

Norghauer, Julian M.; Newbery, David McClintock (2011). Seed fate and seedling dynamics after masting in two African rain forest trees. Ecological Monographs, 81(3), pp. 443-469. Washington, D.C.: Ecological Society of America 10.1890/10-2268.1

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How the effects of biotic factors are moderated by abiotic factors, and their consequences for species interactions, is generally understudied in ecology. A key abiotic feature of forests is regular canopy disturbances that create temporary patches, or “gaps,” of above-average light availability. Co-occurring in lowland primary forest of Korup National Park (Cameroon), Microberlinia bisulcata and Tetraberlinia bifoliolata are locally dominant, ectomycorrhizal trees whose seeds share predator guilds in masting years. Here, we experimentally tested the impact of small mammal predators upon seedling abundance, growth, and survivorship. In 2007, we added a fixed density of seeds of each species to exclosures at 48 gap–understory locations across 82.5 ha within a large Microberlinia grove, and at 15 locations outside it. For both species, small mammals removed more seeds in gaps than in understory, whereas this was reversed for seeds killed by invertebrates. Nonetheless, Microberlinia lost twice as many seeds to small mammals, and more to invertebrates in exclosures, than Tetraberlinia, which was more prone to a pathogenic white fungus. After six weeks, both species had greater seedling establishment in gaps than understory, and in exclosures outside compared to exclosures inside the grove. In the subsequent two-year period, seedling growth and survivorship peaked in exclosures in gaps, but Microberlinia had more seedlings' stems clipped by animals than Tetraberlinia, and more than twice the percentage of leaf area damaged. Whereas Microberlinia seedling performance in gaps was inferior to Tetraberlinia inside the grove, outside it Microberlinia had reduced leaf damage, grew taller, and had many more leaves than Tetraberlinia. No evidence was found for “apparent mutualism” in the understory as seedling establishment of both species increased away from (>25 m) large stems of either species, pointing to “apparent competition” instead. In gaps, Microberlinia seedling establishment was lower near Tetraberlinia than conspecific adults because of context-dependent small mammal satiation. Stage-matrix analysis suggested that protecting Microberlinia from small mammals could increase its population growth rate by 0.06. In the light of prior research we conclude that small mammals and canopy gaps play an important role in promoting species coexistence in this forest, and that their strong interaction contributes to Microberlinia's currently very poor regeneration.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS)
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS) > Vegetation Ecology [discontinued]

UniBE Contributor:

Norghauer, Julian Martin and Newbery, David McClintock


500 Science > 580 Plants (Botany)




Ecological Society of America




Peter Alfred von Ballmoos-Haas

Date Deposited:

04 Oct 2013 14:27

Last Modified:

31 Oct 2017 15:09

Publisher DOI:


Web of Science ID:




URI: (FactScience: 215865)

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