Figs (Ficus sp.) are often considered as keystone resources which strongly influence tropical forest ecosystems. We used long-term tree-census data to track the population dynamics of two abundant free-standing fig species, Ficus insipida and F. yoponensis, on Barro Colorado Island (BCI), a 15.6-km2 island in Lake Gatún, Panama. Vegetation cover on BCI consists of a mosaic of old growth (>400 years) and maturing (about 90-150 year old) secondary rainforest. Locations and conditions of fig trees have been mapped and monitored on BCI for more than 35 years (1973-2011), with a focus on the Lutz Catchment area (25 ha). The original distribution of the fig trees shortly after the construction of the Panama Canal was derived from an aerial photograph from 1927 and was compared with previous land use and forest status. The distribution of both fig species (~850 trees) is restricted to secondary forest. Of the original 119 trees observed in Lutz Catchment in 1973, >70% of F. insipida and >90% of F. yoponensis had died by 2011. Observations in other areas on BCI support the trend of declining free-standing figs. We interpret the decline of these figs on BCI as a natural process within a maturing tropical lowland forest. Senescence of the fig trees appears to have been accelerated by severe droughts such as the strong El Niño event in the year 1982/83. Because figs form such an important food resource for frugivores, this shift in resource availability is likely to have cascading effects on frugivore populations.
Albrecht, Larissa; Stallard, Robert F; and Kalko, Elisabeth K V, "Land use history and population dynamics of free-standing figs in a maturing forest." (2017). Institute of Arctic & Alpine Research Faculty Contributions. 15.