Size-dependence of growth and mortality influence the shade tolerance of trees in a lowland temperate rain forest


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  • 1A trade-off between growth in high-light and survival in low-light of species is often proposed as a key mechanism underpinning the dynamics of trees in forest communities. Yet, growth and survival are known to depend on plant size and few studies have analysed how this trade-off can vary between juvenile life stages and the potential consequences of the trade-off for the differences in regeneration rate between species in mixed forests.
  • 2We quantified growth and mortality for two different juvenile life stages – seedlings and saplings – of seven tree species common in temperate rain forests in New Zealand using data from field studies. We found strong evidence that the ranking of species for survival in shade and growth in full light was affected by size. There was a trade-off between seedling survival in low light and sapling height growth in high light, but no trade-offs were observed when considering other combinations of life stages (seedling growth vs. seedling survival, seedling growth vs. sapling survival, or sapling growth vs. sapling survival).
  • 3We ran simulations with an individual-based forest dynamics model – SORTIE/NZ – to explore how the trade-off drives the differences in tree species regeneration success in gaps vs. under closed forest conditions. These simulations indicate that because species’ ranks in shade tolerance varied with life stage, regeneration success was not predicted from knowledge of tree performance at a single life stage. For instance, high-light sapling growth was a strong determinant of regeneration success in forest gaps, but seedling growth was also influential. Under closed forest, regeneration success was primarily limited by low-light mortality at the seedling stage, but seedling growth and sapling survival were also influential.
  • 4Synthesis. Growth-survival trade-offs can be strongly affected by the size of the individual analysed, resulting in completely different rankings of the shade tolerance of species across different juvenile life stages. Performance of both seedlings and saplings influenced regeneration success, highlighting the need to consider growth-survival trade-offs and the shade-tolerance strategies of tree species over a large range of juvenile sizes.