Disturbance shaping the elevation ranges of trees in Costa Rica

Study finds expanded elevation ranges of trees in secondary vs old-growth forests

Data resources used via GBIF : 126,066 species occurrences
Quercus costaricensis
Quercus costaricensis observed in Cartago, Costa Rica by Gerrit Öhm. Photo via iNaturalist (CC BY-NC 4.0)

In ecology, disturbance caused by transient reduction in competition resulting from vegetation death or removal—through e.g. grazing, mowing or controlled burning—can help promote species diversity at local scales, but how it might shape distributions at larger scales is unknown.

In this study, researchers examined and compared the elevation range limits of tree species in undisturbed old-growth and secondary forests of Costa Rica. Using plot data and GBIF-mediated occurrences of 7,750 individual tree stems representing more than 490 species, the authors calculated elevation ranges of all species and analysed relationships with other parameters.

In their results, species ranges increased with elevation. Consistent with the authors' predictions, species in secondary growth forests had wider elevation ranges than species in old growth—a pattern also seen in larger stems compared to smaller stems. Despite some noise and uncertainty, these results together add evidence to the role of disturbance in expanding tree elevation ranges.

Original article

Muñoz Mazón M, Klanderud K, Finegan B, Veintimilla D, Bermeo D, Murrieta E, Delgado D and Sheil D (2019) Disturbance and the elevation ranges of woody plant species in the mountains of Costa Rica. Ecology and Evolution. Wiley 9(24): 14330–14340. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.5870