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

Am Nat. 2006 May;167(5):758-65. doi: 10.1086/503056. Epub 2006 Mar 20.


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.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bolivia
  • Carbon / analysis
  • Ecosystem*
  • Light*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Photosynthesis / physiology
  • Plant Leaves / anatomy & histology*
  • Plant Leaves / chemistry
  • Species Specificity
  • Survival Analysis
  • Trees / anatomy & histology
  • Trees / growth & development*
  • Tropical Climate


  • Carbon