1 Individuals of many woody plant species have the ability to respond to damage which causes removal of the crown by producing new branches (sprouts) along the remaining stem. Resprouting by woody plants has received little attention in relatively undisturbed tropical forest.
2 To assess the importance of resprouting for forest dynamics, we estimated resprouting rates and mortality rates of resprouted individuals for the forest as a whole and for individual species in a 50-ha permanent plot in tropical moist forest on Barro Colorado Island, Panama. We tested for differences between species and asked whether the differences were related to phylogeny, growth form or shade tolerance.
3 Among individuals not known to have resprouted previously, we estimate that the annual rate of resprouting is 1.7% for individuals in both small and large size classes (1–9.9 cm d.b.h. and ≥ 10 cm d.b.h.). For small and large individuals, respectively, annual mortality of previously undamaged individuals is 2.2% and 1.5%, while that of resprouted individuals is 9.6% and 10.3%. This resulted in survival of 62% of resprouted individuals over 5 years, compared to 90% survival among individuals not known to have resprouted recently.
4 Resprouting rates varied by species and family, but little between growth forms. Species in the families Lauraceae and Piperaceae had high rates of resprouting. Resprouting was common across the spectrum of shade tolerance.
5 Damage to woody forest plants on Barro Colorado Island is frequent, and many species are able to respond by resprouting. Resprouting ability may be an important life history characteristic of woody species on BCI, with individuals experiencing both increases and decreases in size.