Tropical forest dynamics in unstable terrain: an example from New Guinea
Long-term forest dynamics plots in the tropics tend to be situated on stable terrain. This study investigated forest dynamics on the north coast of New Guinea where active subduction zones are uplifting lowland basins and exposing relatively young sediments to rapid weathering. We examined forest dynamics in relation to disturbance history, topography and soil nutrients based on partial re-census of the 50-ha Wanang Forest Dynamics Plot in Papua New Guinea. The plot is relatively high in cations and phosphorus but low in nitrogen. Soil nutrients and topography accounted for 29% of variation in species composition but only 4% of variation in basal area. There were few areas of high biomass and most of the forest was comprised of small-diameter stems. Approximately 18% of the forest was less than 30 y old and the annual tree mortality rate of nearly 4% was higher than in other tropical forests in South-East Asia and the neotropics. These results support the reputation of New Guinea's forests as highly dynamic, with frequent natural disturbance. Empirical documentation of this hypothesis expands our understanding of tropical forest dynamics and suggests that geomorphology might be incorporated in models of global carbon storage especially in regions of unstable terrain.