, Volume 183, Issue 2, pp 607–618 | Cite as

Resource partitioning by evergreen and deciduous species in a tropical dry forest

  • Juan C. Álvarez-YépizEmail author
  • Alberto Búrquez
  • Angelina Martínez-Yrízar
  • Mark Teece
  • Enrico A. Yépez
  • Martin Dovciak
Conservation ecology – original research


Niche differentiation can lead to coexistence of plant species by partitioning limiting resources. Light partitioning promotes niche differentiation in tropical humid forests, but it is unclear how niche partitioning occurs in tropical dry forests where both light and soil resources can be limiting. We studied the adult niche of four dominant evergreen (cycad, palm) and drought-deciduous (legume, oak) species co-occurring along environmental gradients. We analyzed light intensity and soil fertility effects on key functional traits related to plant carbon and water economy, how these traits determine species’ functional strategies, and how these strategies relate to relative species abundance and spatial patterns. Light intensity was negatively associated with a key trait linked to plant water economy (leaf δ 13 C, a proxy for long-term water-use efficiency—WUE), while soil fertility was negatively associated with a key trait for plant carbon economy (LNC, leaf nitrogen content). Evergreens were highly sclerophyllous and displayed an efficient water economy but poor carbon economy, in agreement with a conservative resource-use strategy (i.e., high WUE but low LNC, photosynthetic rates and stature). Conversely, deciduous species, with an efficient carbon economy but poor water economy, exhibited an exploitative resource-use strategy (i.e., high LNC, photosynthetic rates and stature, but low WUE). Evergreen and deciduous species segregated spatially, particularly at fine-scales, as expected for species with different resource-use strategies. The efficient water economy of evergreens was related to their higher relative abundance, suggesting a functional advantage against drought-deciduous species in water-limited environments within seasonally dry tropical forests.


Adult niche Carbon assimilation Coexistence Plant strategies Water relations 



We thank the field and lab assistants: Alejandro Cueva, Leonel Corral, Leonel Alvarez, Francisco Carrete and Enriquena Bustamante. Sierra de Alamos-Rio Cuchujaqui Biosphere Reserve staff provided facilities and logistical support. This study complies with current laws of Mexico. JCAY acknowledges a postdoctoral fellowship from the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACYT, #179045), doctoral fellowships from Fulbright-Garcia Robles (#15086997) and CONACYT (#214564), and partial funding from SUNY ESF (Dence fellowship), Syracuse University (PLACA grant) and PAPIIT DGAPA/UNAM IN207315. MD received funding from SUNY ESF for purchasing the LCpro+ and partly for stable isotope analyses. We appreciate the constructive criticism of two anonymous reviewers that helped us to improve this manuscript.

Author contribution statement

JCAY and MD conceived and designed the study. MT and EY prepared and analyzed leaf samples for chemical composition. AB and AMY collaborated in soil analysis. JCAY performed fieldwork and data analysis. JCAY and MD wrote the manuscript. All authors revised several versions of the manuscript and provided editorial advice.

Supplementary material

442_2016_3790_MOESM1_ESM.docx (193 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 193 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Juan C. Álvarez-Yépiz
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Alberto Búrquez
    • 2
  • Angelina Martínez-Yrízar
    • 2
  • Mark Teece
    • 1
  • Enrico A. Yépez
    • 3
  • Martin Dovciak
    • 1
  1. 1.State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF)SyracuseUSA
  2. 2.Instituto de EcologíaUniversidad Nacional Autónoma de MéxicoHermosilloMexico
  3. 3.Instituto Tecnológico de SonoraCiudad ObregónMexico

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