Deforestation of tropical dry forest reduces soil fertility, with negative effects on future restoration intervention. To evaluate the effect of initial soil properties on three-year performance of six tree species in restoration settings, we measured C, N, and P contents in topsoils of 48 plots under minimal (exclusions of livestock grazing) and maximal (plantings of six native species) restoration intervention during two years in tropical dry forest in central Mexico. Survival and height and diameter relative growth rates were evaluated by species and by growth rank (three fast- and three slow-growing species). After two years, organic C and the C:N ratio increased early during natural succession; these increases might be related to high density of N2
-fixing recruits at both intervention levels. Changes in N availability for plants (i.e., NO3−
contents) occurred after cattle exclusion. After 40 months, the fast-growing legume Leucaena esculenta
(DC.) Benth. had the highest survival (65.55%) and relative growth rate in both height (3.16%) and diameter (5.67%). Fast-growing species had higher survival and diameter growth rates than slow-growing species. Higher diameter growth rates for fast-growing species may be associated with a higher ability to forage for soil resources, whereas similar height growth rates for slow and fast-growing species suggested low competition for light due to slow natural succession at the site. Planted seedlings had higher survival possibly due to initial high NO3−
content in the soil. Also, fast-growing species seem to benefit from initially higher pH in the soil. Both soil properties (i.e., pH and NO3−
) may be augmented to favor the performance of fast-growing species in restoration plantings and to further accelerate soil recovery in tropical dry forests.
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