Interactions between repeated fire, nutrients, and insect herbivores affect the recovery of diversity in the southern Amazon. Academic Article uri icon


  • Surface fires burn extensive areas of tropical forests each year, altering resource availability, biotic interactions, and, ultimately, plant diversity. In transitional forest between the Brazilian cerrado (savanna) and high stature Amazon forest, we took advantage of a long-term fire experiment to establish a factorial study of the interactions between fire, nutrient availability, and herbivory on early plant regeneration. Overall, five annual burns reduced the number and diversity of regenerating stems. Community composition changed substantially after repeated fires, and species common in the cerrado became more abundant. The number of recruits and their diversity were reduced in the burned area, but burned plots closed to herbivores with nitrogen additions had a 14 % increase in recruitment. Diversity of recruits also increased up to 50 % in burned plots when nitrogen was added. Phosphorus additions were related to an increase in species evenness in burned plots open to herbivores. Herbivory reduced seedling survival overall and increased diversity in burned plots when nutrients were added. This last result supports our hypothesis that positive relationships between herbivore presence and diversity would be strongest in treatments that favor herbivory--in this case herbivory was higher in burned plots which were initially lower in diversity. Regenerating seedlings in less diverse plots were likely more apparent to herbivores, enabling increased herbivory and a stronger signal of negative density dependence. In contrast, herbivores generally decreased diversity in more species rich unburned plots. Although this study documents complex interactions between repeated burns, nutrients, and herbivory, it is clear that fire initiates a shift in the factors that are most important in determining the diversity and number of recruits. This change may have long-lasting effects as the forest progresses through succession.

publication date

  • May 2013