Most montane rain forests on the island of Hawaii consist of a closed canopy formed by Cibotium spp. tree ferns beneath an open canopy of emergent Metrosideros polymorpha trees. We used artificial seedlings to assess the extent to which physical disturbance caused by the senescing fronds of tree ferns and the activities of feral pigs might limit tree regeneration. Artificial seedlings were established terrestrially (N = 300) or epiphytically (N = 300) on tree fern stems. Half of the seedlings on each substrate were in an exclosure lacking feral pigs and half were in forest with pigs present. After one year, the percentage of seedlings damaged was significantly greater among terrestrial seedlings (25.7%) than epiphytic seedlings (11.3%). Significantly more terrestrial seedlings were damaged in the presence of pigs (31.3%) than in the absence of pigs (20.0%). Senescing fronds of tree ferns were responsible for 60.3 percent of the damaged seedlings. Physical disturbance is potentially a major cause of seedling mortality and may reduce the expected half-life of a seedling cohort to less than two years.
Additional publication details
Seedling mortality in Hawaiian rain forest: The role of small-scale physical disturbance