- 1Trade-offs among plant traits may contribute to specialization for different environments and coexistence of plant species. This may be the first study that shows how trade-offs among branch traits contribute to variation in crown size, light requirements and maximum height across multiple sympatric tree species in a tropical rain forest.
- 2Ten saplings were selected for each of 30 tree species in a Bolivian rain forest. Sapling height and crown dimensions were measured and branch and stem samples were harvested. Fresh density, dry density, modulus of rupture, centre of mass, biomass and diameters were determined for those samples. For each species, cantilever theory predicted the mass needed to produce a stable 1-m long horizontal branch.
- 3Generally, shade-tolerant species had denser and stronger branches, and produced a stable horizontal branch at lower resource costs. These species had branches with a higher resistance against mechanical failure, and a wide crown that favours effective light acquisition. Less shade-tolerant species had low density and weak branches, short branches, high resource costs per unit branch length, and low resource costs per unit stem length. These traits seem advantageous under conditions of prolonged exposure to direct sunlight, where such species grow rapidly to reproductive size, while mechanical risks are low and light levels are favourable.
- 4Branch (wood and bark) traits are good predictors for performance differences across tree species in heterogeneous forest light environments. Physical trade-offs among branch traits contribute to the specialization of tree species for different light habitats and to tree species coexistence in tropical rain forests, even within classical functional groups such as pioneers and shade tolerants.