Skip to main content Accessibility help

Below-ground secondary succession in tropical forests of Borneo

  • Francis Q. Brearley (a1) (a2)


As the destruction and severe disturbance of primary tropical forest continues, it is important to understand how these forests may recover from perturbations. Considerable work has been done on above-ground recovery but below-ground processes are less well understood. To determine changes in root mass during tropical secondary succession in lowland forests of Central Borneo, samples were taken from stands of increasing ages since abandonment of agriculture (1, 3, 14 and 31 y) with a primary forest control (six plots from 1-y-old stands and three from all other ages). Root mass and elemental concentrations were determined and soils were chemically analysed. There was no increase in root mass with stand age for fine-root (< 2 mm diameter) or small-root (< 5 mm diameter) mass but there was a trend for coarse-root mass (5–10 mm diameter) to increase with stand age. Negative correlations were shown between root mass and soil nutrient status. Fine-root C concentrations increased with stand age but there was no clear effect of stand age on fine-root N or P. Fine-root mass did not increase significantly with stand age suggesting a rapid recovery; instead, soil nutrient status appeared to be the most important factor controlling root mass. Of the soil nutrients measured in this study, N had a stronger control over root mass than P suggesting that this element may be limiting during secondary succession in tropical lowland forests of Borneo.


Corresponding author


Hide All
ARUNACHALAM, A., PANDEY, H. N., MAITHANI, K. & TRIPATHI, R. S. 1997. Organic matter and nutrient dynamics of fine and coarse roots during recovery of a felled subtropical humid forest. Russian Journal of Ecology 28:380385.
ASHWORTH, J. & MRAZEK, K. 1995. “Modified Kelowna” test for available phosphorus and potassium in soil. Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis 26:731739.
BERISH, C. W. 1982. Root biomass and surface area in three successional tropical forests. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 12:699704.
BLOOM, A. J., CHAPIN, , F. S. & MOONEY, H. A. 1985. Resource limitation in plants: an economic analogy. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 16:363392.
BONAL, D., BORN, C., BRECHET, C., COSTE, S., MARCON, E., ROGGY, J.-C. & GUEHL, J.-M. 2007. The successional status of tropical rain forest tree species is associated with differences in leaf carbon isotope discrimination and functional traits. Annals of Forest Science 64:169176.
BREARLEY, F. Q., PRAJADINATA, S., KIDD, P. S., PROCTOR, J. & SURIANTATA 2004. Structure and floristics of an old secondary rain forest in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, and a comparison with adjacent primary forest. Forest Ecology and Management 195:385397.
BREARLEY, F. Q., PROCTOR, J., SURIANTATA, NAGY, L., DALRYMPLE, G. & VOYSEY, B. C. 2007. Reproductive phenology over a 10-year period in a lowland evergreen rain forest of central Borneo. Journal of Ecology 95:828839.
BROWN, S. & LUGO, A. E. 1990. Tropical secondary forests. Journal of Tropical Ecology 6:132.
CAIRNS, M. A., BROWN, S., HELMER, E. H. & BAUMGARDNER, G. A. 1997. Root biomass allocation in the world's upland forests. Oecologia 111:111.
CAVELIER, J., ESTEVEZ, J. & ARJONA, B. 1996. Fine-root biomass in three successional stages of an Andean cloud forest in Colombia. Biotropica 28:728736.
CAVELIER, J., WRIGHT, S. J. & SANTAMARÍA, J. 1999. Effects of irrigation on litterfall, fine root biomass and production in a semideciduous lowland forest in Panama. Plant and Soil 211:207213.
CHAZDON, R. L., LETCHER, S. G., VAN BRUEGEL, M., MARTÍNEZ-RAMOS, M., BONGERS, F. & FINEGAN, B. 2007. Rates of change in tree communities of secondary Neotropical forests following major disturbances. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Series B – Biological Sciences 362:273289.
CORLETT, R. T. 1995. Tropical secondary forests. Progress in Physical Geography 19:159172.
DAVIDSON, E. A., REIS DE CARVALHO, C. J., FIGUEIRA, A. M., ISHIDA, F. Y., OMETTO, J. P. H. B., NARDOTO, G. B., SABÁ, R. T., HAYASHI, S. N., LEAL, E. C., VIEIRA, I. C. G. & MARTINELLI, L. A. 2007. Recuperation of nitrogen cycling in Amazonian forests following agricultural abandonment. Nature 447:995998.
DE JONG, W. 1997. Developing swidden agriculture and the threat of biodiversity loss. Agriculture Ecosystems and Environment 62:187197.
ELLSWORTH, D. S. & REICH, P. B. 1996. Photosynthesis and leaf nitrogen in five Amazonian tree species during early secondary succession. Ecology 77:581594.
FINEGAN, B. 1996. Patterns and process in Neotropical secondary rain forests: the first 100 years of succession. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 11:119124.
GORDON, W. S. & JACKSON, R. B. 2000. Nutrient concentrations in fine roots. Ecology 81:275280.
GOWER, S. T. 1987. Relations between mineral nutrient availability and fine root biomass in two Costa Rican tropical wet forests: a hypothesis. Biotropica 19:171175.
GREEN, J. J. 1992. Fine root dynamics in a Bornean rain forest. Ph.D. thesis, University of Stirling, UK.
GREEN, J. J., DAWSON, L. A., PROCTOR, J., DUFF, E. I. & ELSTON, D. A. 2005. Fine root dynamics in a tropical rain forest is influenced by rainfall. Plant and Soil 276:2332.
GUARIGUATA, M. R. & OSTERTAG, R. 2001. Neotropical secondary succession: changes in structural and functional characteristics. Forest Ecology and Management 148:185206.
HERTEL, D. & LEUSCHNER, C. 2010. Fine root mass and fine root production in tropical moist forests as dependent on soil, climate and elevation. Pp. 428444 in Bruijnzeel, L. A., Scatena, F. N. & Hamilton, L. S. (eds.). Tropical montane cloud forest: science for conservation and management. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
HERTEL, D., LEUSCHNER, C. & HÖLSCHER, D. 2003. Size and structure of fine root systems in old-growth and secondary tropical montane forests (Costa Rica). Biotropica 35:143153.
HERTEL, D., HÖLSCHER, D., KOHLER, L. & LEUSCHNER, C. 2006. Changes in fine root system size and structure during secondary succession in a Costa Rican montane oak forest. Pp. 283297 in Kapelle, M. (ed.). Ecology and conservation of neotropical montane oak forests. Ecological Studies Volume 185. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.
JACKSON, R. B., MOONEY, H. A. & SCHULZE, E.-D. 1997. A global budget for fine root biomass, surface area, and nutrient contents. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 94:73627366.
JARAMILLO, V. J., AHEDO-HERNÁNDEZ, R. & KAUFFMAN, J. B. 2003. Root biomass and carbon in a tropical evergreen forest of Mexico: changes with secondary succession and conversion to pasture. Journal of Tropical Ecology 19:457464.
KLEINMAN, P. J. A., PIMENTEL, D. & BRYANT, R. B. 1995. The ecological sustainability of slash-and-burn agriculture. Agriculture Ecosystems and Environment 52:235249.
LAWRENCE, D. C., PEART, D. R. & LEIGHTON, M. 1998. The impact of shifting cultivation on a rainforest landscape in West Kalimantan: spatial and temporal dynamics. Landscape Ecology 13:135148.
MAYCOCK, C. R. & CONGDON, R. A. 2000. Fine root biomass and soil N and P in north Queensland rain forests. Biotropica 32:185190.
MIRMANTO, E., PROCTOR, J., GREEN, J. J., NAGY, L. & SURIANTATA 1999. Effects of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilisation in a lowland evergreen rain forest. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Series B – Biological Sciences 354:18251829.
MUTHUKUMAR, T., SHA, L., YANG, X., CAO, M., TANG, J. & ZHENG, Z. 2003. Distribution of roots and arbuscular mycorrhizal associations in tropical forest types of Xishuangbanna, southwest China. Applied Soil Ecology 22:241253.
NAGY, L. & PROCTOR, J. 1999. Early secondary forest growth after shifting cultivation. Pp. 112 in Sist, P., Sabogal, C. & Byron, Y. (eds.). Management of secondary and logged-over forest in Indonesia. Centre for International Forestry Research, Bogor.
OSTERTAG, R. 1998. Belowground effects of canopy gaps in a lowland tropical wet forest. Ecology 79:12941304.
OSTERTAG, R. 2001. The effects of nitrogen and phosphorus availability on fine root dynamics in Hawaiian montane forests. Ecology 82:485499.
POWERS, J. S. 2004. Changes in soil carbon and nitrogen after contrasting land-use transitions in northeastern Costa Rica. Ecosystems 7:134146.
POWERS, J. S., TRESEDER, K. K. & LERDAU, M. T. 2005. Fine roots, arbuscular mycorrhizal hyphae and soil nutrients in four Neotropical rain forests: patterns across large geographical distances. New Phytologist 165:913921.
PRAJADINATA, S. 1996. Studies on tree regrowth on shifting cultivation sites near Muara Joloi, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. M.Sc. thesis, University of Stirling, UK.
RAICH, J. W. 1980. Fine roots regrow rapidly after forest felling. Biotropica 12:230231.
REICH, P. B., ELLSWORTH, D. S. & UHL, C. 1995. Leaf carbon and nutrient assimilation and conservation in species of differing successional status in an oligotrophic Amazonian forest. Functional Ecology 9:6576.
SANFORD, R. L. & CUEVAS, E. 1996. Root growth and rhizosphere interactions in tropical forests. Pp. 268300 in Mulkey, S. S., Chazdon, R. L. & Smith, A. P. (eds.). Tropical forest plant ecophysiology. Chapman & Hall, London.
SOETHE, N., LEHMANN, J. & ENGELS, C. 2007. Carbon and nutrient stocks in roots of forests at different altitudes in the Ecuadorian Andes. Journal of Tropical Ecology 23:319328.
YAMASHITA, T., KASUYA, N., KADIR, W. R., CHIK, S. W., QUAH, E. S. & OKUDA, T. 2003. Soil and belowground characteristics of Pasoh Forest Reserve. Pp. 89109 in Okuda, T., Manokaran, N., Matsumoto, Y., Niiyama, K., Thomas, S. C. & Ashton, P. S. (eds.). Pasoh: ecology of a lowland rain forest in Southeast Asia. Springer-Verlag, Tokyo.



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed