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

F.J. Sterck, L. Poorter, F. Schieving

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

152 Citations (Scopus)


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
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)758-765
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • shade tolerance
  • relative importance
  • tropical trees
  • carbon gain
  • plant
  • model
  • disturbance
  • canopies
  • spectrum
  • size

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