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Restoration interventions mediate tropical tree recruitment dynamics over time


Forest restoration is increasingly heralded as a global strategy to conserve biodiversity and mitigate climate change, yet long-term studies that compare the effects of different restoration strategies on tree recruit demographics are lacking. We measured tree recruit survival and growth annually in three restoration treatments-natural regeneration, applied nucleation and tree plantations-replicated at 13 sites in southern Costa Rica-and evaluated the changes over a decade. Early-successional seedlings had 14% higher survival probability in the applied nucleation than natural regeneration treatments. Early-successional sapling growth rates were initially 227% faster in natural regeneration and 127% faster in applied nucleation than plantation plots but converged across restoration treatments over time. Later-successional seedling and sapling survival were similar across treatments but later-successional sapling growth rates were 39% faster in applied nucleation than in plantation treatments. Results indicate that applied nucleation was equally or more effective in enhancing survival and growth of naturally recruited trees than the more resource-intensive plantation treatment, highlighting its promise as a restoration strategy. Finally, tree recruit dynamics changed quickly over the 10-year period, underscoring the importance of multi-year studies to compare restoration interventions and guide ambitious forest restoration efforts planned for the coming decades. This article is part of the theme issue 'Understanding forest landscape restoration: reinforcing scientific foundations for the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration'.

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