Viewing tropical forest succession as a three-dimensional dynamical system
As tropical forests are complex systems, they tend to be modelled either roughly via scaling relationships or in a detailed manner as high-dimensional systems with many variables. We propose an approach which lies between the two whereby succession in a tropical forest is viewed as a trajectory in the configuration space of a dynamical system with just three dependent variables, namely, the mean leaf-area index (LAI) and its standard deviation (SD) or coefficient of variation along a transect, and the mean diameter at breast height (DBH) of trees above the 90th percentile of the distribution of tree DBHs near the transect. Four stages in this forest succession are identified: (I) naturally afforesting grassland: the initial stage with scattered trees in grassland; (II) very young forest: mostly covered by trees with a few remaining gaps; (III) young smooth forest: almost complete cover by trees of mostly similar age resulting in a low SD; and (IV) old growth or mature forest: the attracting region in configuration space characterized by fluctuating SD from tree deaths and regrowth. High-resolution LAI measurements and other field data from Khao Yai National Park, Thailand show how the system passes through these stages in configuration space, as do simple considerations and a crude cellular automaton model.