Trait‐based approaches have been extensively used in community ecology to provide a mechanistic understanding of the drivers of community assembly. However, a foundational assumption of the trait framework, traits relate to performance, has been mainly examined through univariate relationships that simplify the complex phenotypic integration of organisms. We evaluate a conceptual framework in which traits are organized hierarchically combining trait information at the individual‐ and species‐level from biomass allocation and organ‐level traits. We focus on photosynthetic traits and predict that the positive effects of increasing plant leaf mass on growth depend on species‐level leaf traits. We modeled growth data on more than 1,500 seedlings from 97 seedling species from a tropical forest in China. We found that seedling growth increases with allocation to leaves (high leaf area ratio and leaf mass fraction) and this effect is accentuated for species with high specific leaf area and leaf area. Also, we found that light has a significant effect on growth, and this effect is additive with leaf allocation traits. Our work offers an approach to gain further understanding of the effects of traits on the whole plant‐level growth via a hierarchical framework including organ‐level and biomass allocation traits at species and individual levels.
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We asked: (a) whether the strength of conspecific and heterospecific neighborhood crowding effects on focal tree survival and growth vary with neighborhood radii; and (b) if the relative strength of the effect of neighborhood interactions on tree growth and survival varies with neighborhood scale.
Luquillo Forest Dynamics Plot, Puerto Rico.
We used tree survival and growth data and included information on species‐mean trait values related to several leaf traits, maximum height, seed mass and wood density. We incorporated a tree neighborhood modeling approach that uses an area around a focal tree with a specified radius, to describe the interactions between a focal tree and its neighbors. We constructed survival and growth models for each functional trait using a Bayesian approach, and varied the size of the radius from 5 m to 30 m, at 5‐m intervals.
The results suggested that the estimated effects of conspecific and heterospecific neighbors on tree performance do not vary based on the size of the neighborhood (5–30 m), suggesting that the effects of conspecific and heterospecific neighbors on the performance of a focal tree likely do not vary substantially beyond a neighborhood radius of 5 m in the Luquillo forest. In contrast, the estimated strength of the functional neighborhood (effect of neighbors based on their functional trait values) on tree performance was dependent on the neighborhood range. Our results also suggested that the effects of trait distances and trait hierarchies on tree survival and growth are acting simultaneously and at the same spatial scales.
Findings from this study highlight the importance of spatial scale in community assembly processes, and specifically, call for increased attention when selecting the radius that defines the neighborhood around a focal tree as the selected neighborhood radius influences the community patterns discovered, and affects the conclusions about the drivers that control community assembly.
Patterns of seed dispersal and seed mortality influence the spatial structure of plant communities and the local coexistence of competing species. Most seeds are dispersed in proximity to the parent tree, where mortality is also expected to be the highest, because of competition with siblings or the attraction of natural enemies. Whereas distance‐dependent mortality in the seed‐to‐seedling transition was often observed in tropical forests, few studies have attempted to estimate the shape of the survival‐distance curves, which determines whether the peak of seedling establishment occurs away from the parent tree (Janzen–Connell pattern) or if the peak attenuates but remains at the parent location (Hubbell pattern). In this study, we inferred the probability density of seed dispersal and two stages of seedling establishment (new recruits, and seedlings 20 cm or taller) with distance for 24 tree species present in the 50‐ha Forest Dynamics Plot of Barro Colorado Island, Panama. Using data from seed traps, seedling survey quadrats, and tree‐census records spanning the 1988–2014 period, we fit hierarchical Bayesian models including parameters for tree fecundity, the shape of the dispersal kernel, and overdispersion of seed or seedling counts. We combined predictions from multiple dispersal kernels to obtain more robust inferences. We find that Hubbell patterns are the most common and Janzen–Connell patterns are very rare among those species; that distance‐dependent mortality may be stronger in the seed stage, in the early recruit stage, or comparable in both; and that species with larger seeds experience less overall mortality and less distance‐dependent mortality. Finally, we describe how this modeling approach could be extended at a community scale to include less abundant species.