PREMISE OF THE STUDY: The seedling stage is particularly vulnerable to resource limitation, with potential consequences for community composition. We investigated how light and soil variation affected early growth, biomass partitioning, morphology, and physiology of 22 tree species common in tropical dry forest, including eight legumes. Our hypothesis was that legume seedlings are better at taking advantage of increased resource availability, which contributes to their successful regeneration in tropical dry forests. METHODS: We grew seedlings in a full-factorial design under two light levels in two soil types that differed in nutrient concentrations and soil moisture. We measured height biweekly and, at final harvest, biomass partitioning, internode segments, leaf carbon, nitrogen, δ 13 C, and δ 15 N. KEY RESULTS: Legumes initially grew taller and maintained that height advantage over time under all experimental conditions. Legumes also had the highest final total biomass and water-use efficiency in the high-light and high-resource soil. For nitrogen-fixing legumes, the amount of nitrogen derived from fixation was highest in the richer soil. Although seed mass tended to be larger in legumes, seed size alone did not account for all the differences between legumes and nonlegumes. Both below ground and aboveground resources were limiting to early seedling growth and function. CONCLUSIONS: Legumes may have a different regeneration niche, in that they germinate rapidly and grow taller than other species immediately after germination, maximizing their performance when light and belowground resources are readily available, and potentially permitting them to take advantage of high light, nutrient, and water availability at the beginning of the wet season.
Bibliographical notePublisher Copyright:
© 2017 Botanical Society of America.
- Light availability
- Nitrogen fixation
- Soil resources
- Tree seedlings