Landscape Ecology

, Volume 25, Issue 7, pp 1099–1111 | Cite as

Patch dynamics and community metastability of a subtropical forest: compound effects of natural disturbance and human land use

  • Jess K. Zimmerman
  • Liza S. Comita
  • Jill Thompson
  • María Uriarte
  • Nicholas Brokaw
Research Article


Where large disturbances do not cause landscape-wide mortality and successional change, forested ecosystems should exhibit landscape metastability (landscape equilibrium) at a scale equal to the dominant patch size of disturbance and recovery within the landscape. We investigated this in a 16-ha contiguous plot of subtropical wet forest in Puerto Rico, the Luquillo Forest Dynamics Plot (LFDP), which experienced two major hurricanes during the 15-year study and has a land use history (logging and agriculture 40 or more years hence) that differs in intensity between two areas of the plot. Using he LFDP as our “landscape,” we studied the spatial pattern of community change through time (3–5 year intervals) by calculating community dissimilarity between tree censuses for two size classes of trees (1 to <10 cm DBH and ≥10 cm DBH) in quadrats ranging in size from 0.010–1 ha and for the entire landscape, i.e., plot or land use type. The point at which the decline in community dissimilarity with quadrat size showed maximum curvature identified the dominant patch size (i.e., point of metastability). For canopy trees ≥10 cm dbh, there was no evidence that the community experienced landscape-wide successional changes in either land use type, and we found a consistent patch size of community change around 0.1 ha (range 0.091–0.107). For the understory tree and shrub community (1 to <10 cm dbh) there was some evidence of landscape-wide community changes over time in response to hurricane damage, apparently driven by interactions with the dominant canopy species, whose composition varied with land use intensity, and their species-specific susceptibility to hurricane damage.


Hurricane Landscape dynamics Luquillo Experimental Forest Puerto Rico Succession Tropical forest 



This work was supported by NSF grants BSR-9015961 and DEB-0516066 and funds from the Mellon Foundation. Our work was also supported by NSF funds (BSR-8811902, DEB-9411973, DEB-008538, DEB-0218039, and DEB-0620910 to the Luquillo Long-Term Ecological Research Program, a collaboration between the Institute for Tropical Ecosystem Studies, University of Puerto Rico, and the International Institute of Tropical Forestry, USDA Forest Service. The U.S. Forest Service and the University of Puerto Rico provided additional direct support. L.S.C. acknowledges the support of an Earth Institute Fellowship from Columbia University.

Supplementary material

10980_2010_9486_MOESM1_ESM.doc (172 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 171 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jess K. Zimmerman
    • 1
  • Liza S. Comita
    • 2
    • 3
  • Jill Thompson
    • 1
    • 4
  • María Uriarte
    • 2
  • Nicholas Brokaw
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for Tropical Ecosystem StudiesUniversity of Puerto RicoSan JuanUSA
  2. 2.Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental BiologyColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.National Center for Ecological Analysis and SynthesisSanta BarbaraUSA
  4. 4.Centre for Ecology and Hydrology-EdinburghBush Estate, Penicuik, MidlothianScotland, UK

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