• Bayesian hierarchical model;
  • demography;
  • functional traits;
  • life history trade-offs;
  • long-term ecological research;
  • phylogenetic independent contrasts;
  • trait conservatism


  • Wood density is thought to be an important indicator of plant life history because it is coupled to many aspects of whole-plant form and function. We used a hierarchical Bayesian approach to explain variation in mortality rates with wood density, drawing on data for 765 500 trees from 1639 species at 10 sites located across the Old and New World tropics.
  • Mortality rates declined with increasing wood density at five of 10 sites. Similar negative trends were detected at four additional sites, while one site showed no relationship. Our model explained 40% of variation in mortality on average. Both wood density and mortality rates show a high degree of phylogenetic conservatism.
  • Grouping species by family across sites in a second analysis, we found considerable variation in the relationship between wood density and mortality, with 10 of 27 families demonstrating a strong negative relationship.
  • Our results highlight the importance of wood density as a functional trait in tropical forests, as it is strongly linked to variation in survival. However, the relationship varied among families, plots, and even census intervals within sites, indicating that the factors responsible for the relationship between wood density and mortality vary spatially, taxonomically and temporally.