Divergence of hydraulic traits among tropical forest trees across topographic and vertical environment gradients in Borneo

Paulo Roberto de Lima Bittencourt* (Corresponding Author), David C Bartholomew, Lindsay F Banin, Mohamed Aminur Faiz Bin Suis, Reuben Nilus, David F R P Burslem, Lucy Rowland

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
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Fine-scale topographic-edaphic gradients are common in tropical forests and drive species spatial turnover and marked changes in forest structure and function. We evaluate how hydraulic traits of tropical tree species relate to vertical and horizontal spatial niche specialization along such a gradient. Along a topographic-edaphic gradient with uniform climate in Borneo, we measured six key hydraulic traits in 156 individuals of differing heights in 13 species of Dipterocarpaceae. We investigated how hydraulic traits relate to habitat, tree height and their interaction on this gradient. Embolism resistance increased in trees on sandy soils but did not vary with tree height. By contrast, water transport capacity increased on sandier soils and with increasing tree height. Habitat and height only interact for hydraulic efficiency, with slope for height changing from positive to negative from the clay-rich to the sandier soil. Habitat type influenced trait-trait relationships for all traits except wood density. Our data reveal that variation in the hydraulic traits of dipterocarps is driven by a combination of topographic-edaphic conditions, tree height and taxonomic identity. Our work indicates that hydraulic traits play a significant role in shaping forest structure across topographic-edaphic and vertical gradients and may contribute to niche specialization among dipterocarp species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to) 2183-2198
Number of pages16
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number6
Early online date26 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2022

Bibliographical note

PRdLB acknowledges the Royal Society for its Newton International Fellowship (NF170370) and LR acknowledges a UK NERC independent fellowship grant NE/N014022/1. DCB acknowledges UK NERC NE/L002434/1 for its studentship. We are grateful for the logistic and scientific support of the Forest Research Centre, Sabah Forestry Department, and in particular to Noreen Majalap and Rolando Robert. We thank the Sabah Biodiversity Centre and the Sabah Forestry Department for permission to conduct this research in Sepilok Forest Reserve (access permit JKM/MBS.1000-2/2 JLD.9 (17)).

Data Availability Statement

The data that support the findings of this study are available at https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.w6m905qrs.


  • tropical forest
  • water transport
  • Dipterocarpaceae
  • hydraulic traits
  • large trees
  • niche specialization
  • Southeast Asia
  • tree height


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