Recovery of amphibian, reptile, bird and mammal diversity during secondary forest succession in the tropics

12 April 2019

Acevedo-Charry, Orlando; Aide, T. Mitchell

In tropical regions, many studies have focused on how vegetation and ecosystem processes recover following the abandonment of anthropogenic activities, but less attention has been given to the recovery patterns of vertebrates. Here we conduct a meta-analysis (n = 147 studies) of amphibian, reptile, bird, and mammal recovery during tropical secondary forest succession (i.e. natural regeneration). For each taxonomic group, we compared changes in species richness and compositional similarity during natural secondary succession to reference forests (mature or old growth forest). In addition, we evaluated the response of forest specialists and the change in bird and mammal functional groups during natural secondary succession in the tropical moist forest biome. Overall, species richness of all groups reached levels of the reference forests during natural secondary succession, but this was not the case for species compositional similarity. The delay in recovery of forest specialists may be the reason for the delay in recovery of species compositional similarity. Overall, vertebrate recovery increased with successional stage, but other potential predictors of diversity recovery, such as, the geographical setting (amphibian and reptile species compositional similarity recovered more rapidly on islands), rainfall (mammal species richness and compositional similarity recovered faster in regions of low rainfall), and the landscape context (amphibian, reptile and mammal species compositional similarity recovered faster in regions with more forest patches) influenced vertebrate recovery. These results demonstrate the important role of secondary forests in providing habitat for many vertebrates, but the slow recovery of species compositional similarity, forest specialists, and some functional groups (e.g. insectivorous birds) highlighted the challenge of secondary forest persistence, and strongly argues for the continued protection of old growth/mature forest as habitat for forest specialists and as sources for secondary forest sites.