Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 March 2004
Controls over net primary productivity are the subject of a long-term experiment within a lowland subtropical wet forest in the Luquillo mountains of Puerto Rico. Responses of the fern community to fertilization and debris-removal treatments and to monitoring activities were assessed 6 y after the experiment began in October 1989, just after the passage of Hurricane Hugo. Negative fern responses to fertilization included a qualitative change in species composition and a 13-fold reduction in density compared with controls. Plants were smaller and spore production rates were lower. Debris removal reduced the number of species and increased the proportion of terrestrial species. Density of Nephrolepis rivularis individuals in debris-removal plots was only 5% that of control levels while abundance of Thelypteris deltoidea nearly doubled. Buffer-zone fern density was 36% greater than and per cent of leaves damaged was half that of the monitored zones. The magnitude of the responses of ferns to experimental treatments and to monitoring effects suggest that they may be good early indicators of change in a tropical forest.