Understory light availability is an important component of the environment for canopy tree seedlings. Understanding what generates variation in understory light availability represents one step in understanding processes regulating seedling banks, the beginning capital of regeneration in tropical forests. Near the forest floor, variation in light availability may be strongly influenced by the structure and composition of the understory. I examined abundance of understory foliage and patterns of light attenuation in five Neotropical forests (La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica = LS; Barro Colorado Nature Monument, Panama = BCI; Cocha Cashu Biological Station, Manu National Park, Peru = CC; Kilometer 41, Manaus, Brazil = KM41; and Nouragues, French Guiana = NG). I used hemispherical canopy photos to estimate light availability at two heights (0.65 and 1.7 m) above the forest floor and counted foliage between these heights. Light availability differed significantly among sites, and site rankings depended on measurement height. At 0.65 m, NG had significantly lower mean light availability than CC, with KM41, LS, and BCI equivalent and intermediate. At 1.7 m, light availability was still lowest at NG, and highest at CC, but LS had levels similar to CC while KM41 and BCI remained intermediate. Across sites, light attenuation was positively related to foliage density. LS had the most understory foliage and the highest light attenuation between 0.65 and 1.7 m. KM41, NG and CC had intermediate amounts of foliage and intermediate light attenuation. BCI had the lowest density of understory foliage and no difference between light at the two measurement heights. My results show significant effects of understory foliage on understory light and indicate that the selective environment of canopy tree seedlings differs among sites.
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Vol. 36 • No. 1