"In the vegetable as well as in the animal kingdom, the causes of the distribution of the species are among the number of mysteries, which natural philosophy cannot reach. This science is not occupied in the investigation of the origine of beings, but of the laws according to which they are distributed... It examines the things that are, the coexistence of vegetable and animal forms in each latitude, at different heights, and at different degrees of temperature; it studies the relations under which particular organizations are more vigorously developed, multiplied, or modified"
Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland 1814
Succession not only allow us to see how environmental gradients shape communities through time. Succession also allow us to see how plants shape the gradients that regulate their own replacement. Fascinating! Still, there are many aspects of tropical forest succession that are still unresolved. For example, how strong are the effects of starting conditions and how long do they last during succession? How and why gradients of starting conditions change across the landscape, and how such gradients accelerate or delay succession? My studies have shown that gradients in topography and soil nutrients can have profound effects on tree and liana communities during succession. Moreover, starting points can accelerate forest recovery and should be assessed in restoration initiatives. I am currently integrating how traits and gradients can help explain community turnover during succession.
Interdependence of properties
We describe communities by their properties, but properties are not independent from one another. Moreover, interdependence changes within and among environmental gradients. Correlations among community properties are key when we try to understand how communities are structured, but the effect of environmental gradients on such correlations are rarely taken into account. I have shown that different properties of tropical bat communities change in different ways across gradients of rainfall and temperature at medium and large spatial scales. Particularly, I found that community evenness is regulated by how productivity and temperature seasonality affect species richness. My research has expanded our understanding of the processes that explain tropical bat communities, and it has highlighted the importance of bats as providers of key ecosystem services.
Estrada-Villegas, S., M. Bailón, J. S. Hall, S. A. Schnitzer, B. L. Turner, T. Caughlin, and M. van Breugel. 2020. Edaphic factors and initial conditions influence successional trajectories of early regenerating tropical dry forests. Journal of Ecology 108:160-174.
Estrada-Villegas, S., N. DeMalach, M. M. Ramos, L. M. Ladwig, S. J. Meiners, L. K. Werden, and S. A. Schnitzer. 2020. Review of the Symposium Determinism and Stochasticity in Ecological Succession in ESA-Louisville, 2019. Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America 101:1-6.
Estrada-Villegas, S., J. S. Hall, M. van Breugel, and S. A. Schnitzer. 2020. Lianas reduce biomass accumulation in early successional tropical forests. Ecology 101:e02989.
Estrada-Villegas et al. 2022. Environmental seasonality regulates community evenness in neotropical bat communities. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.
Stevens, R. D., and S. Estrada-Villegas. 2020. Chapter 20 Community Ecology. in T. H. Fleming, L. M. Dávalos, and M. A. R. Mello, editors. Phyllostomid Bats: A Unique Mammalian Radiation. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Estrada-Villegas, S., B. J. McGill, and E. K. V. Kalko. 2012. Climate, habitat, and species interactions at different scales determine the structure of a Neotropical bat community. Ecology 93:1183-1193.