Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Santa Cruz

UC Santa Cruz Previously Published Works bannerUC Santa Cruz

Assisted restoration interventions drive functional recovery of tropical wet forest tree communities


Choosing appropriate forest restoration interventions is challenging. Natural regeneration can rapidly facilitate forest recovery in many situations. However, barriers such as dispersal limitation and competition with non-native species can require assisted restoration approaches to facilitate plant community recovery. We used a study that has directly compared the outcomes of tropical wet forest restoration interventions across 11 replicate sites in southern Costa Rica. Within this framework, we examined the functional recovery trajectories of recruiting tree sapling communities across a gradient of restoration interventions including low (natural regeneration), intermediate (applied nucleation), and high (plantation) initial resource-investment, which we compared to remnant reference forest. We collated leaf and stem functional traits for tree species that comprised the bulk of recruiting saplings, then determined how community-weighted trait means and functional diversity metrics changed over a decade across treatments. Results show that assisted restoration approaches (applied nucleation, plantation) sped the development of more functionally diverse tree communities, more than tripling the functional richness (FRic) of recruiting communities when compared to natural regeneration. However, functional dispersion (i.e., the trait range of dominant species) was equivalent across interventions, and between 28 and 44% lower than remnant forest, indicating that increases in FRic under assisted restoration were driven by species recruiting in low abundances (<10 individuals across treatments). Recruits in assisted restoration treatments also had 10–15% tougher, less-palatable leaves, and leaves were even tougher in reference forest, which could be driven by increasing herbivory pressure along the gradient of interventions. Results show that tracking simple metrics such as species richness can mask a more mechanistic understanding of ecosystem recovery that is elucidated by taking a functional trait-driven approach toward evaluating outcomes. For example, our work identified a paucity of dense-wooded species recruiting across restoration interventions, wood density was 11–13% lower in restoration treatments than reference forests, underscoring such species as prime targets for enrichment planting. Overall, findings suggest that assisted restoration can catalyze the functional recovery of naturally recruiting tree communities in landscapes that are slow to recover naturally and highlight the importance of evaluating how different components of functional diversity shift over time to fully understand restoration outcomes.

Many UC-authored scholarly publications are freely available on this site because of the UC's open access policies. Let us know how this access is important for you.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View