Relationships between branch spacing, growth rate and light in tropical forest saplings



1. The spacing of branches along central stems was related to growth rate and light level in forest saplings and trees in tropical moist forest on Barro Colorado Island (BCI), Panama. The study included 14 species with tiers of plagiotropic branches (having planar leaf arrangements) and four species with continuous distributions of plagiotropic branches.

2. All species showed increases in branch spacing with increasing light and growth rate of diameter, similar to the patterns in leaf spacing noted previously in species which initially bear large leaves on unbranched stems.

3. Non-tiered species had shorter internodes than tiered species but because the latter bear more branches per node, both groups had similar numbers of branches per unit stem length, when compared at similar growth rates.

4. Differences in the relationship between internode length and growth rate among tiered species were related to demographic characteristics, suggesting that tree architecture may influence forest composition.

5. The strong correlation observed between branch spacing and growth rate suggests that branch spacing may be used to estimate past growth histories of forest tree species with plagiotropic branches.


  1. Present address and address for reprint requests: Ecosystem Dynamics Group, Research School of Biological Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia.