The objective of this study was to compare the vegetation structure and soil properties among old-growth tropical dry forests representing three categories of grazing intensity by cattle (light, moderate and heavy grazing) and a category of 20-30-yr-old secondary forest experiencing occasional grazing in a locality in northwestern Mexico. Within each forest type, three 0.1 ha plots located in different grazing ranges ("potreros") were used as replicates. All woody plants (stem ≥ 2.0 cm diameter at 1.30 m height, DBH) were identified and measured in each plot. Mean basal area and above-ground biomass (AGB) were significantly higher in the moderately grazed old-growth forest. Species density was significantly lower in the secondary forest, where a leguminous tree species was dominant. Accumulation of AGB after 20-30 yr of secondary forest recovery accounted for 43% of the old-growth forest AGB. Soil properties varied among forest categories but did not follow a consistent pattern: mean total N and organic matter content were highest in the old-growth forest with moderate grazing; cation exchange capacity (CEC) was similar among the three old-growth forests categories, but it was significantly lower in the secondary forest compared to the old-growth forest with low grazing. Canonical Correspondence Analysis showed that CEC was highly correlated with the actual species distribution in the study area, especially with Acacia cochliacantha the dominant species of the secondary forest category. Resprouting capacity of the persisting species in the old-growth forests experiencing chronic disturbance could have contributed to the maintenance of some of the structural characteristics of a mature forest. Tropical secondary forests seem to accumulate AGB relatively fast, reflecting their potential for carbon storage and provision for other ecosystem services; therefore, they deserve urgent protection measures. © 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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