A monocarpic tree species in a polycarpic world: how can Tachigali vasquezii maintain itself so successfully in a tropical rain forest community?

L. Poorter, P.A. Zuidema, M. Peña-Claros, R. Boot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


1. Although monocarpy is rare among long-lived plant species that grow in stable habitats, one monocarpic species, Tachigali vasquezii, is extremely abundant in the rain forests of the Bolivian Amazon. We analyse how T. vasquezii is able to maintain itself successfully by comparing its life-history traits with those of polycarpic tree species of the same community. We then evaluate the relative importance of such traits using population matrix models. 2. Monocarpic species are expected to have a high fecundity. Seed production per basal area for T. vasquezii is indeed nearly twice that of an average polycarpic species, but this is not sufficient to maintain stable populations. 3. Life-history theory predicts that a monocarpic strategy is advantageous if juvenile survival rates are high compared with adult survival. Although seedlings of T. vasquezii have a lower mortality rate than polycarpic species, its sapling have higher mortality. 4. We found that the success of T. vasquezii is due to its very high diameter growth rates in the larger size classes, which are four times higher than that of an average, co-occurring polycarpic species. Fast diameter growth is enabled by investment in large, leafy crowns and by a low wood density. Applying this high diameter growth in a population model yielded a population growth rate close to that of polycarpic species. Life table response experiment analysis of Tachigali and polycarp models showed that higher growth compensated for the negative demographic effect of 100% adult mortality following reproduction. 5. Rapid growth enables T. vasquezii to reach reproductive maturity in only 49 years, compared with 79 years for an average polycarpic species. It also reduces the risk of dying before eproducing, and 50% more seedlings survive to maturity for T. vasquezii compared with polycarpic species. 6. The dramatic negative demographic consequences of one-time flowering can therefore be completely balanced by taking a shorter time to reach maturity. Taking a time perspective, it appears that Tachigali vasquezii has an advanced, rather than a delayed, reproduction
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)268-278
JournalJournal of Ecology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • versicolor
  • balance
  • traits
  • seed

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