Tropical and subtropical dry forest life zones support forests with lower stature and species richness than do tropical and subtropical life zones with greater water availability. The number of naturalized species that can thrive and mix with native species to form novel forests in dry forest conditions in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands is lower than in other insular life zones. These novel dry forests are young (<60 years) with low structural development, high species dominance, and variable species density. Species density is low during initial establishment and increases with age. At the 1-ha scale, novel forests can have greater species density than mature native forests. Species groups, such as nitrogen-fixing species, and other naturalized species that dominate novel dry forests, have a disproportional influence on forest element stoichiometry. Novel dry forests, compared to the mean of all forest species assemblages island-wide, tend to have fallen leaf litter with lower than average manganese and sodium concentrations and lower than average C/N and C/P ratios. After accounting for significant differences in stand age, geology, and or precipitation, novel dry forests compared to native dry forests have higher C anomalies, lower Ca and Na anomalies, and lower C/N ratio anomalies. Taken together, these characteristics may influence litter decomposition rates and the species composition, diversity, and food web dynamics in litter and soil. Novel dry forests also contribute to the conservation of native plant species on highly degraded lands.
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