Growth responses of seedlings of two neotropical pioneer species to simulated forest gap environments

J. W. Dalling, C. E. Lovelock, S. P. Hubbell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Traditional shade house experiments that expose plants to relatively uniform irradiance and light quality are inadequate to characterize the morphological, allocational and physiological plasticity that seedlings show to different gap environments. Here the design of a pot experiment is described that simulates the daily time course of irradiance and light quality in idealized gaps of six different sizes. Differences in response to gap size are illustrated using data from two pioneer species, Ochroma pyramidale, which recruits exclusively in large gaps and clearings, and Luehea seemannii, which colonizes small branchfall gaps as well as large gaps. Ochroma outperformed Luehea in relative growth rate in all except the smallest simulated gap size. Ochroma's superior performance in the larger gaps could be attributed to a larger proportional investment in leaf biomass (i.e. a higher leaf area ratio, LAR), and higher photosynthetic rates both on a leaf area and leaf mass basis. In the smallest simulated gaps LAR was not significantly different between the species, but Ochroma maintained a higher net assimilation rate. These results fail to support the suggestion that gap partitioning among pioneer species arises directly from morphological and biochemical specialization to particular gap light environments. Instead, it is suggested that partitioning may result from a trade-off between seedling growth and mortality determined by species allocational patterns and mediated by interactions with herbivores and pathogens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)827-839
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Tropical Ecology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Allocation patterns
  • Gap partitioning
  • Growth analysis
  • Light quality
  • Luehea
  • Ochroma
  • Pioneer
  • Simulated gap
  • Tropical rain forest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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