Regeneration niche partitioning in neotropical pioneers: Effects of gap size, seasonal drought and herbivory on growth and survival

T. R.H. Pearson, D. F.R.P. Burslem, R. E. Goeriz, J. W. Dalling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Adaptive trade-offs underlie the specialisation that permits habitat partitioning in species rich plant communities. We investigated the influence of the trade-offs that determine differences in growth and survival among six species of neotropical pioneer trees in gaps in semideciduous forest in Panama. Seedlings of Miconia argentea, Cecropia insignis, Luehea seemannii, Trema micrantha, Ochroma pyramidale and Croton bilbergianus were planted into artificial small (25 m2), medium (64 m2) and large (225 m2) gaps in secondary forest in the Barro Colorado Nature Monument. Trema and Ochroma suffered ≥50% mortality across all gap sizes, while Cecropia had high mortality only during the dry season and in the small gaps, and Miconia and Croton suffered low to zero mortality across all environments. The highest growth rates in large gaps were attained by Cecropia seedlings and in the smaller gaps by Miconia seedlings, although there were indications that Trema and Ochroma required gaps that were larger than any used in this study. Variation in growth and mortality could not be attributed to differences in foliar herbivore damage. Instead, there was strong evidence of a trade-off between maximum growth in the wet season and the ability to survive seasonal drought, particularly in small gaps. We conclude that variation in allocation in response to multiple limiting resources may be as important as allocation to growth and defence in determining the habitat preferences of neotropical pioneers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)456-465
Number of pages10
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 2003


  • Panama
  • Seedling
  • Species richness
  • Trade-off
  • Tropical forest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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