, Volume 75, Issue 1–2, pp 81–86

On the definition of ecological species groups in tropical rain forests

  • M. D. Swaine
  • T. C. Whitmore

DOI: 10.1007/BF00044629

Cite this article as:
Swaine, M.D. & Whitmore, T.C. Vegetatio (1988) 75: 81. doi:10.1007/BF00044629


The species richness of tropical rain forests creates difficulties for ecological analysis. It may usefully be simplified by defining ecological species groups whose members share characteristics of importance for determining forest structure and composition. Many such classifications have been published, but few are properly explained. The terminology is confused from lack of precise definitions. We propose a simple division of tree species into two groups or guilds, pioneer and non-pioneer (or climax), based on seed germination and seedling establishment. Within each guild there is continuous variation and we recommend arbitrary subdivision by height at maturity. We believe this classification to be applicable in all tropical rain forests.


Canopy gap Climax species Germination Ploneer species Seedling establishment Species guild 



tropical rain forest(s)


light hardwood species


heavy hardwood species

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. D. Swaine
    • 1
  • T. C. Whitmore
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Plant ScienceThe UniversityAberdeenScotland
  2. 2.Department of Plant SciencesOxford Forestry InstituteOxfordEngland

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