Changes in cerrado vegetation after disturbance by frost (Sao Paulo State, Brazil).
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We report changes after frost in cerrado species populations and community structure in Assis, Sao Paulo State, Brazil and consider the possible impacts of frost on cerrado types and their distribution. Four permanent plots (10 m x 10 m) were established and 736 individuals were marked with enumerated plastic labels and measured one week after the frost. Frost damage for each individual was assessed: 0 - not affected; 1 - slightly affected; 2 - substantially affected; and 3 - strongly affected. The frost impact on vegetation structure was high, reducing tree canopy cover from 88% to 19% in the upper stratum and that of the lower stratum from 48% to 8.5%. Floristic richness did not change, even though a small number (3%) of individuals of some species died. Conversely, the relative dominance of species changed dramatically in the short-term because of varying susceptibility to frost of different species. The largest reductions in crown cover were observed in Xylopia aromatica and Vochysia tucanorum. Of the 57 species recorded, 15% were unaffected, 19% had only their leaves damaged, 25% had some of their leaves and branches damaged, and 41% had all their aerial parts killed. The majority of individuals in the community belonged to frost tolerant species. The regeneration of the stand structure was remarkably rapid; height and canopy cover of the lower stratum recovered completely after five months, and those of the arboreal stratum showed a recovery of about 80% after 11 months. We consider that the frequency and intensity of frosts can maintain more open forms of cerrado vegetation even in sites where both water and nutrient availability could support denser vegetation. It is also probable that some frost-resistant heliophyte species are confined to areas where frosts prevent the development of denser cerrado vegetation. Much of the characteristic floristic composition of the southern region of the cerrado biome may be related to the selection of frost-resistant species. Our study shows, however, that a full complement of cerrado plants is capable of occupying and colonizing frost susceptible sites.