Seedling and sapling dynamics in a Puerto Rican rain forest were compared between forest understory and soil pits created by the uprooting of 27 trees during Hurricane Hugo. Soil N and P, organic matter, and soil moisture were lower and bulk densities were higher in the disturbed mineral soils of the pits than in undisturbed forest soils ten months after the hurricane. No differences in N and P levels were found in pit or forest soils under two trees with N-fixing symbionts (Inga laurina and Ormosia krugii) compared to soils under a tree species without N-fixing symbionts (Casearia arborea), but other soil variables (Al, Fe, K) did vary by tree species. Forest plots had greater species richness of seedlings (<10 cm tall) and saplings (10–100 cm tall) than plots in the soil pits (and greater sapling densities), but seedling densities were similar between plot types. Species richness and seedling densities did not vary among plots associated with the three tree species, but some saplings were more abundant under trees of the same species. Pit size did not affect species richness or seedling and sapling densities. Recruitment of young Cecropia schreberiana trees (>5 m tall) 45 months after the hurricane was entirely from the soil pits, with no tree recruitment from forest plots. Larger soil pits had more tree recruitment than smaller pits. Defoliation of the forest by the hurricane created a large but temporary increase in light availability. Recruitment of C. schreberiana to the canopy occurred in gaps created by the treefall pits that had lower soil nutrients but provided a longer-term increase in light availability. Treefall pits also significantly altered the recruitment and mortality of many understory species in the Puerto Rican rain forest but did not alter species richness.
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Vol. 32 • No. 2