Differences in Seedling Survival and Growth among Tropical Rain Forest Pioneers in Relation to Canopy Openness and Herbivory.

Differences in Seedling Survival and Growth among Tropical Rain Forest Pioneers in Relation to Canopy Openness and Herbivory.


The study monitored the effect of canopy openness and herbivore damage on seedling survival and growth of 960 individuals of six pioneer tree species: Dillenia triquetra, Macaranga indica, Macaranga peltata, Schumacheria castaneifolia, Trema orientalis, and Wendlandia bicuspidata.

Research Goals & Methods

Seedlings were placed in four gap-understory positions—center, outer gap edge, inner forest edge, and understory—in four large, natural gaps within the Sinharaja World Heritage Reserve, Sri Lanka. Canopy openness positively affected survival probability beyond the 550-d experiment, while herbivory decreased survival and was highest in understory conditions.

Conclusions & Takeaways

The relative order of species survival stayed fairly consistent between gap-understory positions and followed their known shade tolerance rankings. When averaged across all experimental conditions, T. orientalis had the lowest survival probability estimate beyond the 550-d experiment (0.05), but the greatest capacity for growth where it successfully established, while the species with highest averaged survival probability (0.79), D. triquetra, showed the lowest growth. One species, W. bicuspidata, responded positively to herbivory by re-sprouting. Coexistence of D. triquetra, T. orientalis, and W. bicuspidata can be explained by a trade-off among species in survival, growth, and response to herbivory. In addition to variation in canopy light environment, herbivory may be important in determining pioneer species distribution through fine-scale niche partitioning and should be carefully considered in reforestation efforts.





Goodale UM, Berlyn GP, Gregoire TG, Tennakoon KU, Ashton MS. Differences in Survival and Growth Among Tropical Rain Forest Pioneer Tree Seedlings in Relation to Canopy Openness and Herbivory. Biotropica. 2014;46:183–193. doi:10.1111/btp.12088.


  • Key Laboratory of Tropical Forest Ecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Menglun, Mengla, Yunnan, China
  • School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, New Haven, CT, U.S.A
  • Institute for Biodiversity and Environmental Research (IBER) and Faculty of Science, Faculty of Science, Universiti of Brunei Darussalam, Brunei, Darussalam