Gap disturbance regime and composition in the Atlantic Montane Rain Forest: the influence of topography
Formation and closure of canopy gaps was monitored for three years in 12 ha of primary rain forest at Nouragues, French Guiana. At the first inventory, in April 1991, 74 openings in the canopy > 4 m2 (sensu Brokaw 1982a) were located; 60 of these gaps were formed before January 1990. Between January 1990 and December 1993, 5 to 15 gaps were annually formed, opening 0.64–1.33% of the forest canopy each year. Of all gaps, 41% were created by a falling, snapped tree, 34% by a falling, uprooted tree, 22% by a falling branch, and 3% by a falling dead stem. A refined nearest neighbour analysis showed that gaps formed after January 1990 were clustered: uprooting of trees seemed to be related to shallow soils, and relatively many other trees fell when a tree uprooted, independent of the dbh of the uprooted tree. In 37 gaps, canopy openness in the gap centre (determined by hemispherical photographs) was monitored over three years. In 54% of the gaps, canopy openness increased in two successive years. It is reasoned that edges of especially large gaps may frequently be re-disturbed by falling trees or branches. Results suggest that gaps have closed after around 15 years. More data are needed to verify this.