Distance-dependent seedling mortality and long-term spacing dynamics in a neotropical forest community
Negative distance dependence (NDisD), or reduced recruitment near adult conspecifics, is thought to explain the astounding diversity of tropical forests. While many studies show greater mortality at near vs. far distances from adults, these studies do not seek to track changes in the peak seedling curve over time, thus limiting our ability to link NDisD to coexistence. Using census data collected over 12 years from central Panama in conjunction with spatial mark-connection functions, we show evidence for NDisD for many species, and find that the peak seedling curve shifts away from conspecific adults over time. We find wide variation in the strength of NDisD, which was correlated with seed size and canopy position, but other life-history traits showed no relationship with variation in NDisD mortality. Our results document shifts in peak seedling densities over time, thus providing evidence for the hypothesized spacing mechanism necessary for diversity maintenance in tropical forests.