Plant Ecology

, Volume 166, Issue 2, pp 295–306

Light environment and tree strategies in a Bolivian tropical moist forest: an evaluation of the light partitioning hypothesis


    • Programa Manejo de Bosques de la Amazonía Boliviana (PROMAB)
    • Forest Ecology and Forest Management Group, Department of Environmental SciencesWageningen University
  • Eric J.M.M. Arets
    • Programa Manejo de Bosques de la Amazonía Boliviana (PROMAB)
    • Department of Plant EcologyUtrecht University

DOI: 10.1023/A:1023295806147

Cite this article as:
Poorter, L. & Arets, E.J. Plant Ecology (2003) 166: 295. doi:10.1023/A:1023295806147


Light partitioning is thought to contribute to the coexistence of rain forest tree species. This study evaluates the three premises underlying the light partitioning hypothesis; 1) there is a gradient in light availability at the forest floor, 2) tree species show a differential distribution with respect to light, and 3) there is a trade-off in species performance that explains their different positions along the light gradient. To address these premises, we studied the light environment, growth, and survival of saplings of ten non-pioneer tree species in a Bolivian moist forest. Light availability in the understorey was relatively high, with a mean canopy openness of 3.5% and a mean direct site factor of 6.8%. Saplings of two light demanding species occurred at significantly higher light levels than the shade tolerant species. The proportion of saplings in low-light conditions was negatively correlated with the successional position of the species. Light-demanding species were characterised by a low share of their saplings in low-light conditions, a high sapling mortality, a fast height growth and a strong growth response to light. These data show that all three premises for light partitioning are met. There is a clear gradient in shade-tolerance within the group of non-pioneer species leading to a tight packing of species along the small range of light environments found in the understorey.

BoliviaHemispherical photographsIrradianceNiche differentiationSapling growthShade tolerance

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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2003