A complex set of interactions among neighbors influences plant performance and community structure. Understanding their joint operation requires extensive information on species characteristics and individual performance. We evaluated first-year survival of 35719 tropical forest seedlings of 222 species and 15 annual cohorts relative to the density of conspecific and heterospecific neighbors and the phylogenetic similarity of heterospecific neighbors. Neighbors were from two size classes, and size asymmetric interactions provided insight into likely mechanisms. Large heterospecific and conspecific neighbors reduced seedling survival equally, suggesting resource competition rather than host-specific enemies as a mechanism. In contrast, much stronger negative conspecific effects were associated with seedling neighbors capable of limited resource uptake, suggesting shared pests rather than competition as the mechanism. Survival improved, however, near phylogenetically similar heterospecific neighbors, suggesting habitat associations shared among closely related species affect spatial patterns of performance. Improved performance near phylogenetically similar neighbors is an emerging pattern in the handful of similar studies.