Reproductive phenology of coastal plain Atlantic forest vegetation: comparisons from seashore to foothills
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The diversity of tropical forest plant phenology has called the attention of researchers for a long time. We continue investigating the factors that drive phenological diversity on a wide scale, but we are unaware of the variation of plant reproductive phenology at a fine spatial scale despite the high spatial variation in species composition and abundance in tropical rainforests. We addressed fine scale variability by investigating the reproductive phenology of three contiguous vegetations across the Atlantic rainforest coastal plain in Southeastern Brazil. We asked whether the vegetations differed in composition and abundance of species, the microenvironmental conditions and the reproductive phenology, and how their phenology is related to regional and local microenvironmental factors. The study was conducted from September 2007 to August 2009 at three contiguous sites: (1) seashore dominated by scrub vegetation, (2) intermediary covered by restinga forest and (3) foothills covered by restinga pre-montane transitional forest. We conducted the microenvironmental, plant and phenological survey within 30 transects of 25 mx4 m (10 per site). We detected significant differences in floristic, microenvironment and reproductive phenology among the three vegetations. The microenvironment determines the spatial diversity observed in the structure and composition of the flora, which in turn determines the distinctive flowering and fruiting peaks of each vegetation (phenological diversity). There was an exchange of species providing flowers and fruits across the vegetation complex. We conclude that plant reproductive patterns as described in most phenological studies (without concern about the microenvironmental variation) may conceal the fine scale temporal phenological diversity of highly diverse tropical vegetation. This phenological diversity should be taken into account when generating sensor-derived phenologies and when trying to understand tropical vegetation responses to environmental changes.