• Climber;
  • Costa Rica;
  • Leaf nutrient analysis;
  • Nitrogen;
  • Phosphorus;
  • Self-supporting plant
  • Wilbur (1988)

Abstract. To document the relationship between a plant's position in the canopy and its leaf nutrient content, leaf nitrogen and phosphorus were determined for 30 species growing in mature evergreen lowland rain forest at La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica. Species that grow either in the understory, midstory, or the canopy were selected. Species were further separated into three life forms: self-supporting monocots, self-supporting dicots, and climbers. Mass-based nutrient concentrations were expected to decrease with stature, as has been reported in studies of other forests. In fact, mass-based nitrogen and phosphorus did not vary significantly among the three adult-stature classes, although area-based values differed greatly: canopy plants averaged 60 % more nitrogen and 90 % more phosphorus per unit leaf area than understory plants.

Differences in leaf characteristics were evident among the three life forms. Most notably, area-based phosphorus and leaf specific mass were lowest in climbers, intermediate in self-supporting dicots, and highest in self-supporting monocots. These results support the characterization of climbers as investing in inexpensive structures, perhaps in order to gain competitive advantage in light capture by allocating resources to maximize elongation rates.