- Variation in wood specific gravity (WSG) within and across species of tropical trees is poorly studied in relation to vegetation change during tropical forest succession. We investigated WSG of 91 species in eight long-term plots along a successional chronosequence in north-eastern Costa Rica.
- Radial changes in WSG were described by the rate of change (slope) along the stem radius. Significant radial changes were found in 42 of 74 species, with 37 species exhibiting increases from inner to outer wood, and five exhibiting decreases. Radial increases were commonly observed in species with inner WSG below 0·5, whereas radial decreases were observed in species with inner WSG above 0·7.
- Wood specific gravity weighted by cross-sectional area (wWSG) varied four-fold among species. Species classified as second-growth specialists had lower wWSG, lower inner and outer WSG, and higher slopes than old-growth specialists; successional generalists showed intermediate trait values.
- Among 18 species sampled in both second- and old-growth forests, four species (22%) showed significant variation in wWSG between forest types. Of 33 widely sampled species, seven species (21%) showed a significant effect of stem diameter on wWSG.
- Second-growth plots had lower stand-level wWSG and more pronounced radial increases than old-growth plots. Individual tree biomass for species with radial increases and low WSG was substantially underestimated when based on unweighted WSG compared with wWSG.
- Wood specific gravity varied with successional stage at multiple levels: within species, among successional specialist groups, and across plots of varying ages. Radial increases in WSG are common among trees in early and intermediate stages of tropical forest succession. This trait may confer growth advantages early in succession and increased resistance to physical or biotic damage during later successional stages.
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