Community ecology - Original Paper


, Volume 163, Issue 2, pp 485-496

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Attaining the canopy in dry and moist tropical forests: strong differences in tree growth trajectories reflect variation in growing conditions

  • Roel J. W. BrienenAffiliated withCentro de Investigaciones en Ecosistemas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de MéxicoPROMABSchool of Geography, Ecology and Biodiversity, University of Leeds Email author 
  • , Pieter A. ZuidemaAffiliated withEcology and Biodiversity, Utrecht UniversityPROMAB
  • , Miguel Martínez-RamosAffiliated withCentro de Investigaciones en Ecosistemas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México


Availability of light and water differs between tropical moist and dry forests, with typically higher understorey light levels and lower water availability in the latter. Therefore, growth trajectories of juvenile trees—those that have not attained the canopy—are likely governed by temporal fluctuations in light availability in moist forests (suppressions and releases), and by spatial heterogeneity in water availability in dry forests. In this study, we compared juvenile growth trajectories of Cedrela odorata in a dry (Mexico) and a moist forest (Bolivia) using tree rings. We tested the following specific hypotheses: (1) moist forest juveniles show more and longer suppressions, and more and stronger releases; (2) moist forest juveniles exhibit wider variation in canopy accession pattern, i.e. the typical growth trajectory to the canopy; (3) growth variation among dry forest juveniles persists over longer time due to spatial heterogeneity in water availability. As expected, the proportion of suppressed juveniles was higher in moist than in dry forest (72 vs. 17%). Moist forest suppressions also lasted longer (9 vs. 5 years). The proportion of juveniles that experienced releases in moist forest (76%) was higher than in dry forest (41%), and releases in moist forests were much stronger. Trees in the moist forest also had a wider variation in canopy accession patterns compared to the dry forest. Our results also showed that growth variation among juvenile trees persisted over substantially longer periods of time in dry forest (>64 years) compared to moist forest (12 years), most probably because of larger persistent spatial variation in water availability. Our results suggest that periodic increases in light availability are more important for attaining the canopy in moist forests, and that spatial heterogeneity in water availability governs long-term tree growth in dry forests.


Canopy accession Cedrela odorata Gap dynamics Growth suppression Tree rings