Transient dominance in a central African rain forest

Newbery, David McClintock; van der Burgt, Xander; Worbes, Martin; Chuyong, George (2013). Transient dominance in a central African rain forest. Ecological Monographs, 83(3), pp. 339-382. Washington, D.C.: Ecological Society of America 10.1890/12-1699.1

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The large-crowned emergent tree Microberlinia bisulcata dominates rain forest groves at Korup National Park, Cameroon, along with two codominants, Tetraberlinia bifoliolata and T. korupensis. M. bisulcata has a pronounced modal size frequency distribution around 110 cm stem diameter: its recruitment potential is very poor. It is a long-lived light-demanding species, one of many found in African forests. Tetraberlinia species lack modality, are more shade tolerant, and recruit better. All three species are ectomycorrhizal. M. bisulcata dominates grove basal area, even though it has similar numbers of trees (≥50 cm stem diameter) as each of the other two species. This situation presented a conundrum that prompted a long-term study of grove dynamics. Enumerations of two plots (82.5 and 56.25 ha) between 1990 and 2010 showed mortality and recruitment of M. bisulcata to be very low (both rates 0.2% per year) compared with Tetraberlinia (2.4% and 0.8% per year), and M. bisulcata grows twice as fast as the Tetraberlinia. Ordinations indicated that these three species determined community structure by their strong negative associations while other species showed almost none. Ranked species abundance curves fitted the Zipf-Mandelbrot model well and allowed “overdominance” of M. bisulcata to be estimated. Spatial analysis indicated strong repulsion by clusters of large (50 to <100 cm) and very large (≥100 cm) M. bisulcata of their own medium-sized (10 to <50 cm) trees and all sizes of Tetraberlinia. This was interpreted as competition by M. bisulcata increasing its dominance, but also inhibition of its own replacement potential. Stem coring showed a modal age of 200 years for M. bisulcata, but with large size variation (50–150 cm). Fifty-year model projections suggested little change in medium, decreases in large, and increases in very large trees of M. bisulcata, accompanied by overall decreases in medium and large trees of Tetraberlinia species. Realistically increasing very-large-tree mortality led to grove collapse without short-term replacement. M. bisulcata most likely depends on climatic events to rebuild its stands: the ratio of disturbance interval to median species' longevity is important. A new theory of transient dominance explains how M. bisulcata may be cycling in abundance over time and displaying nonequilibrium dynamics.

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:

Newbery, David McClintock and Chuyong, Georg


500 Science > 580 Plants (Botany)




Ecological Society of America




Peter Alfred von Ballmoos-Haas

Date Deposited:

31 Oct 2013 21:48

Last Modified:

18 Oct 2016 16:01

Publisher DOI:


Related URLs:

Uncontrolled Keywords:

African rain forest, Caesalpiniaceae, cyclic dynamics, grove formation, Korup National Park, mosaic theory, replacement potential, spatial pattern, transient dominance




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