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Am Nat. 2006 May;167(5):758-65. Epub 2006 Mar 20.

Leaf traits determine the growth-survival trade-off across rain forest tree species.

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  • 1Forest Ecology and Forest Management Group, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, The Netherlands.


A dominant hypothesis explaining tree species coexistence in tropical forest is that trade-offs in characters allow species to adapt to different light environments, but tests for this hypothesis are scarce. This study is the first that uses a theoretical plant growth model to link leaf trade-offs to whole-plant performances and to differential performances across species in different light environments. Using data of 50 sympatric tree species from a Bolivian rain forest, we observed that specific leaf area and photosynthetic capacity codetermined interspecific height growth variation in a forest gap; that leaf survival rate determined the variation in plant survival rate under a closed canopy; that predicted height growth and plant survival rate matched field observations; and that fast-growing species had low survival rates for both field and predicted values. These results show how leaf trade-offs influence differential tree performance and tree species' coexistence in a heterogeneous light environment.

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