Explaining biomass growth of tropical canopy trees: the importance of sapwood

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Tropical forests are important in worldwide carbon (C) storage and sequestration. C sequestration of these forests may especially be determined by the growth of canopy trees. However, the factors driving variation in growth among such large individuals remain largely unclear. We evaluate how crown traits [total leaf area, specific leaf area and leaf nitrogen (N) concentration] and stem traits [sapwood area (SA) and sapwood N concentration] measured for individual trees affect absolute biomass growth for 43 tropical canopy trees belonging to four species, in a moist forest in Bolivia. Biomass growth varied strongly among trees, between 17.3 and 367.3 kg year-1, with an average of 105.4 kg year-1. We found that variation in biomass growth was chiefly explained by a positive effect of SA, and not by tree size or other traits examined. SA itself was positively associated with sapwood growth, sapwood lifespan and basal area. We speculate that SA positively affects the growth of individual trees mainly by increasing water storage, thus securing water supply to the crown. These positive roles of sapwood on growth apparently offset the increased respiration costs incurred by more sapwood. This is one of the first individual-based studies to show that variation in sapwood traits—and not crown traits—explains variation in growth among tropical canopy trees. Accurate predictions of C dynamics in tropical forests require similar studies on biomass growth of individual trees as well as studies evaluating the dual effect of sapwood (water provision vs. respiratory costs) on tropical tree growth.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1145-1155
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • woody-tissue respiration
  • lowland rain-forest
  • stem water storage
  • functional traits
  • leaf traits
  • good predictors
  • light gradient
  • trade-off
  • ecology
  • area

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