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Vertical niche partitioning of life histories in a tropical forest
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  • John Grady,
  • Quentin Read,
  • Sydne Record,
  • Nadja Rüger,
  • Phoebe Zarnetske,
  • Anthony Dell,
  • Stephen Hubbell,
  • Sean Michaletz,
  • Brian Enquist
John Grady
Washington University in St Louis

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Quentin Read
USDA-ARS Southeast Area
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Sydne Record
Bryn Mawr College
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Nadja Rüger
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Phoebe Zarnetske
Michigan State University
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Anthony Dell
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Stephen Hubbell
University of California
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Sean Michaletz
The University of British Columbia
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Brian Enquist
University of Arizona
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Life history variation in trees is a ubiquitous feature of tropical forests that may facilitate the niche partitioning of light. However, many tests have failed to detect light partitioning by saplings in gaps, which may reflect the stochastic nature of understory light penetration and recruitment. We argue that tree size is a critical component of niche partitioning that is more tightly linked to light availability. To account for size, we use a scaling framework to assess patterns of growth, abundance, mortality, and richness across life histories from >114,000 trees in a primary, neotropical forest. Relative abundance, productivity, and richness shift ~1−2 orders of magnitude with tree size: from shade tolerant, slow trees dominating the understory to parity with rapidly growing fast and long-lived pioneer species in the canopy. Life history tradeoffs promote vertical niche partitioning in tropical forests.