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Linking functional traits and demographic rates in a subtropical tree community: the importance of size dependency

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Summary

  1. An important goal in plant community ecology is to understand how species traits determine demographic performance. Several functional traits have been shown to correlate with growth and mortality rates in trees, but less is known about how the relationships between functional traits and demographic rates change with tree size.
  2. We examined the associations of functional traits with growth and mortality across 43 tree species in the Fushan 25-ha subtropical rain forest plot in northern Taiwan. We estimated the 95th percentile maximum stem diameter, wood density and six leaf functional traits (leaf area, specific leaf area, thickness, succulence, and mass-based nitrogen and phosphorus contents) obtained from leaves on juvenile and adult individuals of each species.
  3. To quantify size-dependent changes in growth and mortality, relative growth rate (RGR) and mortality were estimated as a function of stem diameter using hierarchical Bayesian models. These rate estimates were then correlated with functional traits at a range of stem diameter classes.
  4. Relationships between functional traits and demographic rates varied with tree size. Maximum size was positively correlated with RGR across a wide range of tree sizes. Wood density was negatively correlated with RGR and mortality for small-sized trees. Leaf traits such as leaf area and specific leaf area at juvenile and adult stages were associated more strongly with demographic rates for corresponding sizes than from other sizes.
  5. Synthesis. The observed size-dependent changes in the trait–demography relationships are possibly due to the effects of developmental and environmental changes with increasing tree size. The underlying effects of functional traits on demographic performance vary with tree size, and this should influence dynamics in a tree community.
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