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Vertical stratification reduces competition for light in dense tropical forests

Laurans M., Hérault B., Vieilledent G., Vincent G.. 2014. Forest Ecology and Management, 329 : p. 79-88.

DOI: 10.1016/j.foreco.2014.05.059

Differential growth response to light level is widely accepted as a potential mechanism for maintaining tree species richness in tropical forests. The position of tree species in the hierarchy of the canopy is considered an important indicator of species light capture and growth strategy. Paradoxically, the relative importance of species identity and competition for light in determining individual tree growth is poorly documented at the adult stage. In this study, we used a hierarchical Bayesian model to quantify the overall importance of species identity, light and belowground competition as determinants of tree growth in French Guiana tropical forest. Light competitive status is assessed by a crown exposure score and below ground competition is estimated from local crowding. We examined species sensitivity to both types of competition in relation to adult stature. Our results are based on annual diameter increments of more than 13,510 stems from 282 species monitored over 10 years. Mean annual growth rate was 0.11 cm y_1 with species identity explaining 35% of the individual variation in growth rate. Crown exposure and local crowding explained 3.5% and 2.4% of the variation in growth rate, respectively. Predicted changes in growth rate as crown exposure (resp. local crowding) index changed from lower to upper interquartile level was 0.03 cm y_1 (resp. 0.02 cm y_1). Species sensitivity to crown exposure and to local crowding were positively correlated (i) with predicted growth rate at high-light standardized conditions and (ii) with adult stature. This vertical niche partitioning is invoked to explain the limited contribution made by level of light competition for predicting individual tropical tree growth as the community-level response is dominated by the abundance of small-statured species with low sensitivity to light level. Light appears to drive the stem growth rate of tropical trees through species differentiation more than through individual tree growth limitation. This vertical stratification complements the previously reported regeneration niche and together these provide evidence for light niche partitioning in the three-dimensional space of tropical forests. (Résumé d'auteur)

Mots-clés : forêt tropicale; compétition biologique; modèle de simulation; photosensibilité; régime lumineux; lumière; croissance; taux de croissance; dimension; espacement; caractéristique du peuplement; guyane française; france; niche écologique

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