Questions 1. Is there a trade-off between gap dependency and shade tolerance in each of the life-history stages of three closely related, coexisting species, Acer amoenum (Aa), A. mono (Am) and A. rufinerve (Ar)? 2. If not, what differences in life-history traits contribute to the coexistence of these non-pioneer species?Location: Ogawa Forest Reserve, a remnant (98 ha), species-rich, temperate deciduous forest in central Japan (36°56′ N, 140°35′ E, 600 - 660 m a.s.l.).Methods: We estimated the demographic parameters (survival, growth rate and fecundity) by stage of each species growing in gaps and under closed canopy through observations of a 6-ha permanent plot over 12 years. Population dynamics were analysed with stage-based matrix models including gap dynamics.Results: All of the species showed high seedling and sapling survival rates under closed canopies. However, demographic parameters for each growth stage in gaps and under closed canopies revealed inter-specific differences and ontogenetic shifts. The trade-off between survival in the shade and growth in gaps was detected only at the small sapling stage (height < 30 cm), and Ar had the highest growth rate both in the shade and in the gaps at most life stages.Conclusions: Inter-specific differences and ontogenetic shifts in light requirements with life-form differences may contribute to the coexistence of the Acer species in old-growth forests, with Aa considered a long-lived sub-canopy tree, Am a long-lived canopy tree, and Ar a short-lived, ‘gap-phase’ sub-canopy tree.Nomenclature: Satake et al. (1989).