Question: How do tree seedlings differ in their responses to drought and fire under contrasting light conditions in a tropical seasonal forest?
Location: Mae Klong Watershed Research Station, 100–900 m a.s.l, Kanchanaburi Province, western Thailand.
Method: Seedlings of six trees, Dipterocarpus alatus, D. turbinatus, Shorea siamensis, Pterocarpus macrocarpus, Xylia xylocarpa var. kerrii and Sterculia macrophylla, were planted in a gap and under the closed canopy. For each light condition, we applied (1) continuous watering during the dry season (W); (2) ground fire during the dry season (F); (3) no watering/no fire (intact, I). Seedling survival and growth were followed.
Results: Survival and growth rate were greater in the gap than under the closed canopy for all species, most dramatically for S. siamensis and P. macrocarpus. Dipterocarpus alatus and D. turbinatus had relatively high survival under the closed canopy, and watering during the dry season resulted in significantly higher survival rates for these two species. Watering during the dry season resulted in higher growth rates for five species. All seedlings of D. alatus and D. turbinatus failed to re-sprout and died after fire. The survival rates during the dry season and after the fire treatment were higher for the seedlings grown in the canopy gap than in the shade for S. siamensis, P. macrocarpus, X. xylocarpa var. kerrii and S. macrophylla. The seedlings of these species in the canopy gap had higher allocation to below-ground parts than those under the closed canopy, which may support the ability to sprout after fire.
Conclusions: The light conditions during the rainy season greatly affect seedling survival and resistance to fire during the subsequent dry season. Our results suggest differentiation among species in terms of seedling adaptations to shade, drought and fire.
Nomenclature: Smitinand (1980).
Abbreviations: C = Closed canopy; DDF = Deciduous dipterocarp forest; DEF = Dry evergreen forest; Fi = Fire; Ga = Gap; In = Intact; MDF = Mixed deciduous forest; SOC = Standard overcast sky distribution; S:R = Shoot-root ratio; Wa = Watering.