Forest Structure in Low-Diversity Tropical Forests: A Study of Hawaiian Wet and Dry Forests
The potential influence of diversity on ecosystem structure and function remains a topic of significant debate, especially for tropical forests where diversity can range widely. We used Center for Tropical Forest Science (CTFS) methodology to establish forest dynamics plots in montane wet forest and lowland dry forest on Hawai‘i Island. We compared the species diversity, tree density, basal area, biomass, and size class distributions between the two forest types. We then examined these variables across tropical forests within the CTFS network. Consistent with other island forests, the Hawai‘i forests were characterized by low species richness and very high relative dominance. The two Hawai‘i forests were floristically distinct, yet similar in species richness (15 vs. 21 species) and stem density (3078 vs. 3486/ha). While these forests were selected for their low invasive species cover relative to surrounding forests, both forests averaged 5–>50% invasive species cover; ongoing removal will be necessary to reduce or prevent competitive impacts, especially from woody species. The montane wet forest had much larger trees, resulting in eightfold higher basal area and above-ground biomass. Across the CTFS network, the Hawaiian montane wet forest was similar to other tropical forests with respect to diameter distributions, density, and aboveground biomass, while the Hawai‘i lowland dry forest was similar in density to tropical forests with much higher diversity. These findings suggest that forest structural variables can be similar across tropical forests independently of species richness. The inclusion of low-diversity Pacific Island forests in the CTFS network provides an ∼80-fold range in species richness (15–1182 species), six-fold variation in mean annual rainfall (835–5272 mm yr−1) and 1.8-fold variation in mean annual temperature (16.0–28.4°C). Thus, the Hawaiian forest plots expand the global forest plot network to enable testing of ecological theory for links among species diversity, environmental variation and ecosystem function.