, Volume 136, Issue 3, pp 383–393 | Cite as

Comparative drought-resistance of seedlings of 28 species of co-occurring tropical woody plants

  • Bettina M. J. Engelbrecht
  • Thomas A. Kursar
Population Ecology


Quantifying plant drought resistance is important for understanding plant species' association to microhabitats with different soil moisture availability and their distribution along rainfall gradients, as well as for understanding the role of underlying morphological and physiological mechanisms. The effect of dry season drought on survival and leaf-area change of first year seedlings of 28 species of co-occurring woody tropical plants was experimentally quantified in the understory of a tropical moist forest. The seedlings were subjected to a drought or an irrigation treatment in the forest for 22 weeks during the dry season. Drought decreased survival and growth (assessed as leaf-area change) in almost all of the species. Both survival and leaf-area change in the dry treatment ranged fairly evenly from 0% to about 100% of that in the irrigated treatment. In 43% of the species the difference between treatments in survival was not significant even after 22 weeks. In contrast, only three species showed no significant effect of drought on leaf-area change. The effects of drought on species' survival and growth were not correlated with each other, reflecting different strategies in response to drought. Seedling size at the onset of the dry season had no significant effect on species' drought response. Our study is the first to comparatively assess seedling drought resistance in the habitat for a large number of tropical species, and underlines the importance of drought for plant population dynamics in tropical forests.


Growth Irrigation Soil moisture Survival Tropical moist forest 



Maria del Carmen Ruiz, David Galvez and Didimo Moran provided essential assistance in all stages of the experiment. Additional assistance was provided by Robert Wolf, Beatriz Baker, Kelly Anderson, Eli Robbins, Ana Matilde Ruiz, Teresa Ruiz and Sebastian Brulez. We thank Mel Tyree for his suggestions throughout the study and for comments on the manuscript. Osvaldo de Leon, Andres Hernandez, Rolando Perez, Salomon Aguilar, Rafael Aizprua, Nayda Flores and Blanca Arauz provided expertise in seed and plant identification. This project was funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the University of Utah.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bettina M. J. Engelbrecht
    • 1
    • 2
  • Thomas A. Kursar
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Smithsonian Tropical Research InstituteBalboaRepublic of Panama
  2. 2.Department of BiologyUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA

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