- 1We related above-ground biomass allocation to light interception by trees and lianas growing in three tropical rain forest stands that were 0.5, 2 and 3-year-old regeneration stages after slash and burn agriculture.
- 2Stem height and diameter, leaf angle, the vertical distribution of total above-ground biomass and leaf longevity were measured in individuals of three short-lived pioneers (SLP), four later successional species (LS) and three lianas (L). Daily light capture per individual (Φd) was calculated with a canopy model. Mean daily light interception per unit leaf area (Φarea), leaf mass (Φleaf mass) and above-ground mass (Φmass) were used as measures of instantaneous efficiency of biomass use for light capture.
- 3With increasing stand age, vegetation height and leaf area index increased while light at the forest floor declined from 34 to 5%. The SLP, Trema micanthra and Ochroma pyramidale, dominated the canopy early in succession and became three times taller than the other species. SLP had lower leaf mass fractions and leaf area ratios than the other groups and this difference increased with stand age.
- 4Over time, the SLP intercepted increasingly more light per unit leaf mass than the other species. Lianas, which in the earliest stage were self-supporting and started climbing later on, gradually became taller at a given mass and diameter than the trees. Yet, they were not more efficient than trees in light interception.
- 5SLP had at least three-fold shorter leaf life spans than LS and lianas. Consequently, total light interception calculated over the mean life span of leaves (Φleaf mass total = Φarea × SLAdeath leaves× leaf longevity) was considerably lower for the SLP than for the other groups.
- 6Synthesis. We suggest that early dominance in secondary forest is associated with a high rate of leaf turnover which in turn causes inefficient long-term use of biomass for light capture, whereas persistence in the shade is associated with long leaf life spans. This analysis shows how inherent tradeoffs in crown and leaf traits drive long-term competition for light, and it presents a conceptual tool to explain why early dominants are not also the long-term dominants.