Development of Forest Structure and Leaf Area in Secondary Forests Regenerating on Abandoned Pastures in Central Amazônia
The area of secondary forest (SF) regenerating from pastures is increasing in the Amazon basin; however, the return of forest and canopy structure following abandonment is not well understood. This study examined the development of leaf area index (LAI), canopy cover, aboveground biomass, stem density, diameter at breast height (DBH), and basal area (BA) by growth form and diameter class for 10 SFs regenerating from abandoned pastures. Biomass accrual was tree dominated, constituting 94% of the total measured biomass in all forests abandoned 4 to 6 yr. Vine biomass increased with forest age, but its relative contribution to total biomass decreased with time. The forests were dominated by the tree Vismia spp. (>50%). Tree stem density peaked after 6 to 8 yr (10 320 stems per hectare) before declining by 42% in the 12- to 14-yr-old SFs. Small-diameter tree stems in the 1–5-cm size class composed >58% of the total stems for all forests. After 12 to 14 yr, there was no significant leaf area below 150-cm height. Leaf area return (LAI = 3.2 after 12 to 14 yr) relative to biomass was slower than literature-reported recovery following slash-and-burn, where LAI can reach primary forest levels (LAI = 4–6) in 5 yr. After 12 to 14 yr, the colonizing vegetation returned some components of forest structure to values reported for primary forest. Basal area and LAI were 50%–60%, canopy cover and stem density were nearly 100%, and the rapid tree-dominated biomass accrual was 25%–50% of values reported for primary forest. Biomass accumulation may reach an asymptote earlier than expected because of even-aged, monospecific, untiered stand structure. The very slow leaf area accumulation relative to biomass and to reported values for recovery following slash-and-burn indicates a different canopy development pathway that warrants further investigation of causes (e.g., nutrient limitations, competition) and effects on processes such as evapotranspiration and soil water uptake, which would influence long-term recovery rates and have regional implications.