1. Surprisingly little is known about the relationship between functional traits and demographic rates of tree species under field conditions, particularly for non-tropical species.
2. We studied the interspecific relationship between key functional traits (wood density (WD), maximum tree height, specific leaf area, nitrogen (N) content of leaves, leaf size and seed mass), demographic rates (relative growth rate (RGR) and mortality rate (MR)) and climatic niche for the 44 most abundant tree species in Spain.
3. Demographic data were derived from the Spanish Forest Inventory, a repeated-measures scheme including c. 90 000 permanent plots spread over a territory of c. 500 000 km2. Functional traits data came primarily from a more detailed forest inventory carried out in Catalonia, NE Spain.
4. Our study region covers a wide range of climatic conditions and, not surprisingly, the studied species differed markedly in their climatic niche. Despite that fact, our results showed that the variability in demographic rates across species was much more related to differences in functional traits than to differences in the average climate among species.
5. Maximum tree height and, particularly, WD, emerged as key functional traits, and were the best predictors of demographic rates in our study. These two variables also mediated the marginally significant relationship between RGR and MR, suggestive of a weak trade-off between growth and survival.
6. The main aspects of our results were not altered by the explicit incorporation of phylogenetic effects, suggesting that the observed relationships are not due to divergences between a few major clades.
7. Synthesis. Our study gives support to the notion that variation in functional traits across species allows them to perform largely independently of climatic conditions along environmental gradients.