Variation in climate and soils results in inter-site differences in the assemblages of tree life history strategies within a community, which has important implications for ecosystem structure and dynamics. I investigated interspecific and inter-site variation in wood specific gravity—an easily measured indicator of tree life history strategy—in four Neotropical forests and analyzed its correlates. Mean wood specific gravity (oven-dry weight divided by fresh volume, sometimes also referred to as wood density in the literature) differed significantly among sites, varying inversely with soil fertility and independently of rainfall, seasonality, and temperature. Mean wood specific gravity values were much higher at Kilometer 41, Manaus, Brazil, where soils are extremely poor, than at Cocha Cashu, Peru, Barro Colorado Island, Panama, or La Selva, Costa Rica, where soils are better and mortality rates of trees are higher. Within sites, wood specific gravity varied widely among species. On Barro Colorado Island, among-species variation was significantly, albeit weakly, negatively correlated with sapling and tree mortality and relative growth rates. Altogether, the results suggest that the distribution of tree life history strategies in a community varies substantially among sites, with important consequences for community and ecosystem properties such as aboveground carbon stores.
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Vol. 36 • No. 1