Skip to main content Accessibility help

Trends in leaf traits, litter dynamics and associated nutrient cycling along a secondary successional chronosequence of semi-evergreen tropical forest in South-Eastern Mexico

  • Sarai Sánchez-Silva (a1), Bernardus H.J. De Jong (a2), Deb R. Aryal (a3), Esperanza Huerta-Lwanga (a4) and Jorge Mendoza-Vega (a5)...


Trends in structural and chemical leaf traits along a chronosequence of semi-evergreen tropical forest and their correlation with litter production and decomposition and associated carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) fluxes were assessed. Leaves of 15 dominant species in each plot were collected to measure leaf area, specific leaf area (SLA), C and N concentration and C:N ratio. Litterfall was measured and litter decomposition experiments were set up in 16 experimental plots in a chronosequence of secondary and mature forest. All five leaf traits combined discriminated the secondary forests from mature forest. SLA, N and C:N were significantly correlated to litter decomposition rates. Litter decomposition was significantly slower in mature forest compared with secondary forests. The N concentration of litter was lowest during the dry season, when litterfall was highest. N concentration in fresh leaves was higher than in litter, indicating that N is re-absorbed before leaf abscission. Leaf dynamics and associated nutrient cycling differ significantly between secondary forests and mature forest. Ecosystem-level leaf structural and chemical traits are good predictors of the stage of the forest and explain well the differences in decomposition rates between secondary and primary forests.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author. Email:


Hide All
AIDE, T. M., ZIMMERMAN, J. K., PASCARELLA, J. B., RIVERA, L. & MERCADO-VEGA, H. 2000. Forest regeneration in a chronosequence of tropical abandoned pasture: implications for restoration ecology. Restoration Ecology 4:328338.
ARYAL, D. R., DE JONG, B. H. J., OCHOA-GAONA, S., ESPARZA-OLGUIN, L. & MENDOZA-VEGA, J. 2014. Carbon stocks and changes in tropical secondary forests of southern Mexico. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 195:220230.
ARYAL, D. R., DE JONG, B. H. J., OCHOA-GAONA, S., MENDOZA-V, J. & ESPARZA-OLGUIN, L. 2015. Successional and seasonal variation in litterfall and associated nutrient transfer in semi-evergreen tropical forests of SE Mexico. Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems 103:4560.
BAKKER, M. A., CARREÑO, R. G. & POORTER, L. 2011. Leaf economics traits predict litter decomposition of tropical plants and differ among land use types. Functional Ecology 25:473483.
BAUTISTA, F., PALACIO, A. G., QUINTANA, P. & ZINCK, J. A. 2011. Spatial distribution and development of soils in tropical karst areas from the Peninsula of Yucatan, Mexico. Geomorphology 135:308321.
BERG, B. & MCCLAUGHERTY, C. 2008. Plant litter: decomposition, humus formation and carbon sequestration. (Second edition). Springer, Berlin. 315 pp.
BERGLUND, S. L. & ÅGREN, G. I. 2012. When will litter mixtures decompose faster or slower than individual litters? A model for two litters. Oikos 121:11121120.
BERNIER, P., HANSON, P. J. & CURTIS, P. S. 2008. Measuring litterfall and branchfall. Pp. 91100 in Hoover, C. M. (ed.). Field measurements for forest carbon monitoring. Springer, Berlin.
BOUKILI, V. K. & CHAZDON, R. L. 2016. Environmental filtering, local site factors and landscape context drive changes in functional trait composition during tropical forest succession. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 24:3747.
CHAVEZ, V. B. M., GONZALEZ, R. A., ETCHEVERS, J. D., OYAMA, K. & GARCÍA-O, F. 2015. Foliar nutrient resorption constrains soil nutrient transformations under two native oak species in a temperate deciduous forest in Mexico. European Journal of Forest Restoration 134:803817.
CHAZDON, R. L. 2014. Second growth: the promise of tropical forest regeneration in an age of deforestation. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago. 449 pp.
CLEVELAND, C. C. & LIPTZIN, D. 2007. C:N:P stoichiometry in soil: is there a “Redfield ratio” for the microbial biomass? Biogeochemistry 85:235252.
CORBEELS, M. 2001. Plant litter and decomposition: general concepts and model approaches. Pp. 124129 in Kirshbaum, M. U. F. & Muller, R. (eds). Net ecosystem exchange: workshop proceedings, CRC for greenhouse accounting. CSIRO Forestry and Forest Products, Canberra.
CORNELISSEN, J. H. C., LAVOREL, S., GARNIER, E., DÍAZ, S., BUCHMANN, N., GURVICH, D. E., REICH, P. B., TER STEEGE, H., MORGAN, H. D., VAN DER HEIJDEN, M. G. A., PAUSAS, J. G. & POORTER, H. 2003. A handbook of protocols for standardised and easy measurements of plant functional traits worldwide. Australian Journal of Botany 51:335380.
CUEVAS, E. & MEDINA, E. 1986. Nutrient dynamics within Amazonian forest ecosystems. Oecologia 68:466472.
DA SILVA, L. S., PINHEIRO, T. G., CHAGAS-JR, A., MARQUES, M. I. & BATTIROLA, L. D. 2018. Temporal and spatial variation of Myriapoda (Diplopoda and Chilopoda) assemblages in a Neotropical floodplain. Forest Ecology and Management 429:189197.
DAWKINS, H. C & FIELD, D. R. O. 1978. A long term surveillance system for British woodland vegetation. C.F.I. Occasional Papers No. 1. University of Oxford, Oxford. 106 pp.
DRAKE, J. E., DAVIS, S. C., RAETZ, L. M. & DELUCIA, E. H. 2011. Mechanisms of age-related changes in forest production: the influence of physiological and successional changes. Global Change Biology 17:15221535.
FINERTY, G. E., DE BELLO, F., BÍLÁ, K., BERG, M. P., DIAS, A. T. C., PEZZATTI, G. B. & MORETTI, M. 2016. Exotic or not, leaf trait dissimilarity modulates the effect of dominant species on mixed litter decomposition. Journal of Ecology 104:14001409.
FRESCHET, G. T., AERTS, R. & CORNELISSEN, J. H. C. 2012. A plant economics spectrum of litter decomposability. Functional Ecology 26:5665.
GARCÍA, G. G., PALACIO, P. J. L. & ORTIZ, P. M. A. 2002. Reconocimiento geomorfológico e hidrográfico de la Reserva de la Biosfera Calakmul, México. Investigaciones Geograficas 48:723.
HANDA, I. T., AERTS, R., BERENDSE, F., BERG, M. P., BRUDER, A., BUTENSCHOEN, O., CHAUVET, E., GESSNER, M. O., JABIOL, J., MAKKONEN, M., MCKIE, B. G., MALMQVIST, B., PEETERS, E. T. H. M., SCHEU, S., SCHMID, B., VAN RUIJVEN, J., VOS, V. C. A. & HÄTTENSCHWILER, S. 2014. Consequences of biodiversity loss for litter decomposition across biomes. Nature 509:218–21.
HIKOSAKA, K. & OSONE, Y. 2009. A paradox of leaf-trait convergence: why is leaf nitrogen concentration higher in species with higher photosynthetic capacity? Journal of Plant Research 122:245251.
HÖLSCHER, D., KÖHLER, L., LEUSCHNER, C. & KAPPELLE, M. 2003. Nutrient fluxes in stemflow and throughfall in three successional stages of an upper montane rain forest in Costa Rica. Journal of Tropical Ecology 19:557565.
HUGHES, R. F., KAUFFMAN, J. B. & JARAMILLO, V. J. 1999. Biomass, carbon, and nutrient dynamics of secondary forests in a humid tropical region of México. Ecology 80:18921907.
JACKSON, B. G., PELTZER, D. A. & WARDLE, D. A. 2013. Are functional traits and litter decomposability coordinated across leaves, twigs and wood? A test using temperate rainforest tree species. Oikos 122:11311142.
KARBERG, N. J., SCOTT, N. A. & GIARDINA, C. P. 2008. Methods for estimating litter decomposition. Pp. 103111 in Hoover, C. M. (ed.). Field measurements for forest carbon monitoring. Springer, Berlin.
KAZAKOU, E., VILE, D., SHIPLEY, B., GALLET, C. & GARNIER, E. 2006. Co-variations in litter decomposition, leaf traits and plant growth in species from a Mediterranean old-field succession. Functional Ecology 20:2130.
KAZAKOU, E., VIOLLE, C., ROUMET, C., PINTOR, C., GIMENEZ, O. & GARNIER, E. 2009. Litter quality and decomposability of species from a Mediterranean succession depend on leaf traits but not on nitrogen supply. Annals of Botany 104:11511161.
KELLY, J. M. & BEAUCHAMP, J. J. 1987. Mass loss and nutrient changes in descomposing upland oak and mesic mixed-hardwood leaf litter. Soil Science Society of America Journal 51:16161622.
KOTOWSKA, M. M., LEUSCHNER, C., TRIADIATI, T. & HERTEL, D. 2016. Conversion of tropical lowland forest reduces nutrient return through litterfall, and alters nutrient use efficiency and seasonality of net primary production. Oecologia 180:601618.
LI, Q., TIAN, Y., ZHANG, X., XU, X., WANG, H. & KUZYAKOV, Y. 2017. Labile carbon and nitrogen additions affect soil organic matter decomposition more strongly than temperature. Applied Soil Ecology 114:152160.
LOHBECK, M., POORTER, L., PAZ, H., PLA, L., VAN BREUGEL, M., MARTÍNEZ-RAMOS, M. & BONGERS, F. 2012. Functional diversity changes during tropical forest succession. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 14:8996.
LOHBECK, M., LEBRIJA-TREJOS, E., MARTÍNEZ-RAMOS, M., MEAVE, J. A., POORTER, L. & BONGERS, F. 2015. Functional trait strategies of trees in dry and wet tropical forests are similar but differ in their consequences for succession. PLoS ONE 10:115.
LORENZ, K. & LAL, R. 2010. Carbon sequestration in forest ecosystems. (First edition). Springer Dordrecht. 271 pp.
LU, S. W. & LIU, C. P. 2012. Patterns of litterfall and nutrient return at different altitudes in evergreen hardwood forests of Central Taiwan. Annals of Forest Science 69:877886.
MATSUKI, S. & KOIKE, T. 2006. Comparison of leaf life span, photosynthesis and defensive traits across seven species of deciduous broad-leaf tree seedlings. Annals of Botany 97:813817.
MELILLO, J. M., MCGUIRE, A. D., KICKLIGHTER, D. W., MOORE, B., VOROSMARTY, C. J. & SCHLOSS, A. L. 1993. Global climate change and terrestrial net primary production. Nature 363:234240.
MOURA, P. M., ALTHOFF, T. D., OLIVEIRA, R. A., SOUTO, J. S., SOUTO, P. C., MENEZES, R. S. C. & SAMPAIO, E. V. S. B. 2016. Carbon and nutrient fluxes through litterfall at four succession stages of Caatinga dry forest in Northeastern Brazil. Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems 105:2538.
OHTSUKA, T., SHIZU, Y., NISHIWAKI, A., YASHIRO, Y. & KOIZUMI, H. 2010. Carbon cycling and net ecosystem production at an early stage of secondary succession in an abandoned coppice forest. Journal of Plant Research 123:393401.
OLSON, J. S. 1963. Energy storage and the balance of producers and decomposers in ecological systems. Ecology 44:322331.
ONO, K., HIRADATE, S., MORITA, S. & HIRAI, K. 2013. Fate of organic carbon during decomposition of different litter types in Japan. Biogeochemistry 112:721.
OSTERTAG, R., MARÍN, S. E., SILVER, W. L. & SCHULTEN, J. 2008. Litterfall and decomposition in relation to soil carbon pools along a secondary forest chronosequence in Puerto Rico. Ecosystems 11:701714.
PÉREZ-HARGUINDEGUY, N., DIAZ, S., CORNELISSEN, J. H. C., VENDRAMINI, F., CABIDO, M. & CASTELLANOS, A. 2000. Chemistry and toughness predict leaf litter decomposition rates over a wide spectrum of functional types and taxa in central Argentina. Plant and Soil 218:2130.
PÉREZ-HARGUINDEGUY, N., DIAZ, S., GARNIER, E., LAVOREL, S., POORTER, H., JAUREGUIBERRY, P., BRET-HARTE, M. S., CORNWELL, W. K., CRAINE, J. M., GURVICH, D. E., URCELAY, C., VENEKLAAS, E. J., REICH, P. B., POORTER, L., WRIGHT, I. J., RAY, P., ENRICO, L., PAUSAS, J. G., DE VOS, A. C., BUCHMANN, N., FUNES, G., QUÉTIER, F., HODGSON, J. G., THOMPSON, K., MORGAN, H. D., TER STEEGE, H., VAN DER HEIJDEN, M. G. A., SACK, L., BLONDER, B., POSCHLOD, P., VAIERETTI, M. V., CONTI, G., STAVER, A. C., AQUINO, S. & CORNELISSEN, J. H. C. 2013. New handbook for standardized measurement of plant functional traits worldwide. Australian Journal of Botany 61:167234.
PIETSCH, K. A., OGLE, K., CORNELISSEN, J. H. C., CORNWELL, W. K., BÖNISCH, G., CRAINE, J. M., JACKSON, B. G., KATTGE, J., PELTZER, D. A., PENUELAS, J., REICH, P. B., WARDLE, D. A., WEEDON, J. T., WRIGHT, I. J., ZANNE, A. E. & WIRTH, C. 2014. Global relationship of wood and leaf litter decomposability: the role of functional traits within and across plant organs. Global Ecology and Biogeography 23:10461057.
POORTER, L. & BONGERS, F. 2006. Leaf traits are good predictors of plant performance across 53 rain forest species. Ecology 87:17331743.
POORTER, L., VAN DER PLASSCHE, M., WILLEMS, S. & BOOT, R. G. A. 2004. Leaf traits and herbivory rates of tropical tree species differing in successional status. Plant Biology 6:746754.
QUESTED, H., ERIKSSON, O., FORTUNEL, C. & GARNIER, E. 2007. Plant traits relate to whole-community litter quality and decomposition following land use change. Functional Ecology 21:10161026.
READ, L. & LAWRENCE, D. 2003. Litter nutrient dynamics during succession in dry tropical forests of the Yucatan: regional and seasonal effects. Ecosystems 6:747761.
RENTERÍA, L. Y. & JARAMILLO, V. J. 2011. Rainfall drives leaf traits and leaf nutrient resorption in a tropical dry forest in Mexico. Oecologia 165:201211.
RYAN, M. G., BINKLEY, D. & FOWNES, J. H. 1997. Age-related decline in forest productivity: pattern and process. Advances in Ecology Research 27:213262.
RZEDOWSKI, J. 1978. Vegetación de México. Edit. Limusa, México. 432 pp.
SALDARRIAGA, J. G., WEST, D. C. & THARP, M. L. 1988. Long-term chronosequence of forest succession in the upper Rio Negro of Colombia and Venezuela. Journal of Ecology 76:938958.
SAYER, E. J. & TANNER, E.V. J. 2010. Experimental investigation of the importance of litterfall in lowland semi-evergreen tropical forest nutrient cycling. Journal of Ecology 98:10521062.
SENEVIRATNE, G. 2000. Litter quality and nitrogen release in tropical agriculture: a synthesis. Biology and Fertility of Soils 31:6064.
SZEFER, P., CARMONA, C. P., CHMEL, K., KONEČNÁ, M., LIBRA, M., MOLEM, K., NOVOTNÝ, V., SEGAR, S. T., ŠVAMBERKOVÁ, E., TOPLICEANU, T. S. & LEPŠ, J. 2017. Determinants of litter decomposition rates in a tropical forest: functional traits, phylogeny and ecological succession. Oikos 126:11011111.
TAYLOR, B. R., PARKINSON, D., PARSONS, W. F. J. & FEB, N. 1989. Nitrogen and lignin content as predictors of litter decay rates: a microcosm test. Ecology 70:97104.
TURNER, B. L. 2001. Sustainability and forest transitions in the southern Yucatán: the land architecture approach. Land Use Policy 27:170179.
VESTER, H. F., LAWRENCE, D., EASTMAN, J. R., TURNER, B. L., CALMÉ, S., DICKSON, R., POZO, C. & SANGERMANO, F. 2007. Land change in the southern Yucatan and Calakmul Biosphere Reserve: effects on habitat and biodiversity. Ecological Applications 17:9891003.
WIEDER, R. K. & LANG, G. E. 1982. A critique of the analytical methods used in examining decomposition data obtained from litter bags. Ecology 63:16361642.
WRIGHT, I. J. & WESTOBY, M. 2000. Cross-species relationships between seedling relative growth rate, nitrogen productivity and root vs leaf function in 28 Australian woody species. Functional Ecology 14:97107.
XU, W. & YUAN, W. 2017. Responses of microbial biomass carbon and nitrogen to experimental warming: a meta-analysis. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 115:265274.
XULUC, T. F. J., VESTER, H. F. M., RAMÍREZ, M. N., CASTELLANOS, A. J. & LAWRENCE, D. 2003. Leaf litter decomposition of tree species in three successional phases of tropical dry secondary forest in Campeche, Mexico. Forest Ecology and Management 174: 401412.
ZANNE, A. E., OBERLE, B., DUNHAM, K. M., MILO, A. M., WALTON, M. L. & YOUNG, D. F. 2015. A deteriorating state of affairs: how endogenous and exogenous factors determine plant decay rates. Journal of Ecology 103:14211431.
ZHANG, H., YUAN, W., DONG, W. & LIU, S. 2014. Seasonal patterns of litterfall in forest ecosystem worldwide. Ecological Complexity 20:240247.


Trends in leaf traits, litter dynamics and associated nutrient cycling along a secondary successional chronosequence of semi-evergreen tropical forest in South-Eastern Mexico

  • Sarai Sánchez-Silva (a1), Bernardus H.J. De Jong (a2), Deb R. Aryal (a3), Esperanza Huerta-Lwanga (a4) and Jorge Mendoza-Vega (a5)...


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