The accumulation of species and recovery of species composition along a 70 year succession in a tropical secondary forest

Sawaid Abbas, Janet E. Nichol, Jinlong Zhang, Gunter A. Fischer

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


The majority of global forests are secondary and are at different stages of succession. Assessing the dynamics of species richness and similarity, and quantifying the importance of environmental filtering, dispersal limitation and other stochastic processes are essential to understanding the mechanisms of succession for forest restoration. In this article, we explored the accumulation of species, the relative importance of spatial distance, environmental factors and stand age in determining species composition of a tropical secondary forest succession in Hong Kong. Twenty-eight plots with median age of 7, 20, 39, 61 and over 70 years in the secondary forest were established and surveyed, and the indicator species for each age class were identified. Species composition shows large variation both within and between age classes, while species richness in the old growth forest (>70 yr) was significantly lower than in the mid-age classes. Rarefied species richness showed a rapid accumulation during early succession, but species richness levelled off from 20 yrs onwards. Variation partitioning indicated that spatial distance alone explained 33% of the variation in species composition, followed by environmental distance (8%) and stand age (1%). The results of Nonmetric Multidimensional Scaling suggested that idiosyncratic successional pathways and alternative stable states might be prevalent. Our results suggested dispersal limitation was the main limiting factor in explaining the turnover of species during forest succession, while environmental filtering played a lesser role in shaping species distributions. Our results highlight the importance of active restoration in overcoming the barriers of succession in secondary vegetation in the tropics.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105524
JournalEcological Indicators
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019


  • Degraded landscape
  • Dispersal limitation
  • Environmental filtering
  • Priority effect
  • Secondary forest
  • Species assembly
  • Subtropical
  • Successional pathways

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Decision Sciences
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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