Performance Trade-offs Driven by Morphological Plasticity Contribute to Habitat Specialization of Bornean Tree Species

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43 Citations (Scopus)


Growth-survival trade-offs play an important role in niche differentiation of tropical tree species in relation to light-gradient partitioning. However, the mechanisms that determine differential species performance in response to light and soil resource availability are poorly understood. To examine responses to light and soil nutrient availability, we grew seedlings of five tropical tree species for 12 mo at < 2 and 18 percent full sunlight and in two soil types representing natural contrasts in nutrient availability within a lowland dipterocarp forest in North Borneo. We chose two specialists of nutrient-rich and nutrient-poor soils, respectively, and one habitat generalist. Across all species, growth was higher in high than low light and on more nutrient rich soil. Although species differed in growth rates, the ranking of species, in terms of growth, was consistent across the four treatments. Nutrient-rich soils improved seedling survival and increased growth of three species even under low light. Slower-growing species increased root allocation and reduced specific leaf area (SLA) and leaf area ratio (LAR) in response to decreased nutrient supply. All species increased LAR in response to low light. Maximum growth rates were negatively correlated with survival in the most resource-limited environment. Nutrient-poor soil specialists had low maximum growth rates but high survival at low resource availability. Specialists of nutrient-rich soils, plus the habitat generalist, had the opposite suite of traits. Fitness component trade-offs may be driven by both light and belowground resource availability. These trade-offs contribute to differentiation of tropical tree species among habitats defined by edaphic variation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)424-434
Number of pages11
Issue number4
Early online date25 Mar 2009
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2009


  • Biomass allocation
  • Dipterocarpaceae
  • edaphic variation
  • niche partitioning
  • Southeast Asia
  • tropical rain-forest
  • carbohydrate storage
  • relative importance
  • neotropical forest
  • nutrient addition
  • root competition
  • seedling growth
  • high irradiance
  • soil nutrients
  • light gradient


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