The relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning is an important issue in ecology. Plant functional traits and their diversity are key determinants of ecosystem function in changing environments. Understanding the successional dynamics of functional features in forest ecosystems is a first step to their sustainable management. In this study, we tested the changes in functional community composition with succession in tropical monsoon forests in Xishuangbanna, China. We sampled 33 plots at three successional stages—~40-year-old secondary forests, ~60-year-old secondary forests, and old growth forests—following the abandonment of the shifting cultivation land. Community-level functional traits were calculated based on measurements of nine functional traits for 135 woody plant species. The results show that the community structures and species composition of the old-growth forests were significantly different to those of the secondary stands. The species diversity, including species richness (S), the Shannon–Weaver index (H), and Pielou’s evenness (J), significantly increased during the recovery process after shifting cultivation. The seven studied leaf functional traits (deciduousness, specific leaf area, leaf dry matter content, leaf nitrogen content, leaf phosphorus content, leaf potassium content and leaf carbon content) changed from conservative to acquisitive syndromes during the recovery process, whereas wood density showed the opposite pattern, and seed mass showed no significant change, suggesting that leaf traits are more sensitive to environmental changes than wood or seed traits. The functional richness increased during the recovery process, whereas the functional evenness and divergence had the highest values in the 60-year-old secondary communities. Soil nutrients significantly influenced functional traits, but their effects on functional diversity were less obvious during the secondary succession after shifting cultivation. Our study indicates that the recovery of tropical monsoon forests is rather slow; secondary stands recover far less than the old growth stands in terms of community structure and species and functional diversity, even after about half a century of recovery, highlighting the importance of the conservation of old growth tropical monsoon forest ecosystems.
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