Disturbance intensity is a stronger driver of biomass recovery than remaining tree-community attributes in a managed Amazonian forest.
Forest recovery following management interventions is important to maintain ecosystem functioning and the provision of ecosystem services. It remains, however, largely unclear how above-ground biomass (AGB) recovery of species-rich tropical forests is affected by disturbance intensity and post-disturbance (remaining) tree-community attributes, following logging and thinning interventions. We investigated whether annual AGB increment (ΔAGB) decreases with management-related disturbance intensity (disturbance hypothesis), and increases with the diversity (niche-complementarity hypothesis) and the community-weighted mean (CWM) of acquisitive traits of dominant species (biomass-ratio hypothesis) in the remaining tree community. We analysed data from a long-term forest-management experiment in the Brazilian Amazon over two recovery periods: post-logging (1983-1989) and post-thinning (1995-2012). We computed the ΔAGB of surviving trees, recruit trees and of the total tree community. Disturbance intensity was quantified as basal area reduction and basal area remaining. Remaining diversity (taxonomic, functional and structural) and CWM of five functional traits linked to biomass productivity (specific leaf area, leaf nitrogen and phosphorous concentration, leaf toughness and wood density) were calculated for the post-intervention inventories. Predictors were related to response variables using multiple linear regressions and structural equation modelling. We found support for the disturbance hypothesis in both recovery periods. AGB increment of survivors and of the total tree community increased with basal area remaining, indicating the importance of remaining growing stock for biomass recovery. Conversely, AGB increment of recruit trees increased with basal area reduction because changes in forest structure increased resource availability for young trees. We did not find consistent support for the niche-complementarity and biomass-ratio hypotheses, possibly because of a high redundancy in these extremely species-rich forests. Synthesis and applications. The intensity of disturbance through management, expressed as basal area reduction and basal area remaining, was consistently more important for explaining forest biomass recovery following harvesting and thinning than remaining diversity or trait composition. This points to the importance of controlling logging and thinning intensity in forests of the eastern Amazon. Given the high intervention intensities applied in this experiment, it is likely that low to moderate harvesting intensities permitted by the current legislation for the Brazilian Amazon (30 m3/ha) will not impair biomass recovery in these forests.