Linking wood traits to vital rates in tropical rainforest trees: Insights from comparing sapling and adult wood

PREMISE OF THE STUDY: Wood density is the top predictor of growth and mortality rates (vital rates) but with modest explanatory power at best. Stronger links to vital rates are expected if wood density is decomposed into its anatomical properties at sapling and adult stages, since saplings and adults differ in wood traits and vital rates. We examined whether anatomical determinants of wood density and strength of the relationship between wood traits and vital rates shift between saplings and adults.

METHODS: Using wood segments from near pith (sapling) and near bark (adult) for 20 tree species (three adults each) from Barro Colorado Island, Panama, we quantified wood traits. Vital rates for saplings and adults were obtained from an earlier study.

KEY RESULTS: Anatomical predictors of wood density were similar for sapling and adult wood, with wood density variation largely explained by fiber lumen area and fiber wall fraction. In sapling wood only, growth rates decreased with fiber wall fraction and increased with fiber lumen area, while mortality rates increased with vessel area but decreased with fiber wall fraction and vessel density.

CONCLUSIONS: Wood traits of sapling trees provide functional insight into the growth–mortality tradeoff. Sapling wood with relatively large fiber lumen area and wide vessels, enabling faster hydraulic transport but less mechanical strength, is associated with fast growth and high mortality. Sapling wood with relatively more fiber wall and many narrow vessels, enabling greater mechanical strength but slower hydraulic transport, is associated with slow growth and low mortality.

Oyomoare L. Osazuwa-Peters, S. Joseph Wright, & Amy E. Zanne
American Journal of Botany