Strong habitat preference of a tropical rain forest tree does not imply large differences in population dynamics across habitats


Toshihiro Yamada (tel. +81 96 383 2929; e-mail


  • 1Many tropical forest tree species show habitat preference, commonly revealed by differences in abundance among habitats. Very little is known about differences in individual performance and population dynamics across habitats.
  • 2We analysed habitat-specific performance and demography of Scaphium borneense, a tropical rain forest tree with strong habitat preference in a 52-ha plot at Lambir Hills, Malaysia. This species occurs at high densities on ridges with sandy soils (‘preferred habitat’), at low densities in valleys on loamy soils (‘non-preferred habitat’) and at intermediate densities on slopes. We used 10-year demographic data to compare tree performance across habitats and constructed population matrix models to analyse population dynamics.
  • 3Tree performance was rather similar across habitats. Some vital rates (mortality) did not differ among habitats, while others were modestly (juvenile tree growth) to substantially higher (recruitment) in the non-preferred valley habitat, probably due to higher canopy openness.
  • 4Matrix models projected population sizes to remain stable in all habitats, thus maintaining abundance differences across habitats. This suggests that habitat preference of Scaphium is generated by (a)biotic differences among habitats and not by chance processes or disturbance history.
  • 5Population dynamics were also very similar among habitats. The distribution of elasticity values over categories and vital rates was almost equal for the three habitats. Life table response experiment (LTRE) analysis showed that habitat differences in vital rates had little effect on λ. Thus, Scaphium populations in the three habitats are maintained in a very similar way, despite differences in (a)biotic conditions and abundance.
  • 6We hypothesize that habitat preference of Scaphium is maintained because of a better performance in its preferred habitat relative to other species in that habitat, while the reverse may be true in non-preferred habitats. We suggest that such differences in performance may become apparent during periods of drought, creating windows of opportunity for maintaining density differences.
  • 7Strong habitat preference of rain forest tree species does not necessarily imply strong differences in tree performance, demography or population growth across habitats. The mechanisms that generate density differences across habitats remain to be unravelled.