One important hypothesis to explain tree-species coexistence in tropical forests suggests that increased attack by natural enemies near conspecific trees gives locally rare species a competitive advantage. Host ranges of natural enemies generally encompass several closely related plant taxa suggesting that seedlings should also do poorly around adults of closely related species. We investigated the effects of adult Parashorea malaanonan on seedling survival in a Bornean rain forest. Survival of P. malaanonan seedlings was highest at intermediate distances from parent trees while heterospecific seedlings were unaffected by distance. Leaf herbivores did not drive this relationship. Survival of seedlings was lowest for P. malaanonan, and increased with phylogenetic dissimilarity from this species, suggesting that survival of close relatives of common species is reduced. This study suggests that distance dependence contributes to species coexistence and highlights the need for further investigation into the role of shared plant enemies in community dynamics.
Ecology Letters (2010) 13: 51–59