Determinants of Relative Species Abundance: A Cross-Continental Comparison of Tropical Tree Communities

Principal Investigator(s): 

Tropical treesWhy are some species common while others are extremely rare? This is one of the fundamental questions in the field of ecology, but has been difficult to answer, particularly in very diverse systems such as tropical forests. This project aims to address several questions concerning the determinants of species abundance in tropical tree communities. First, do species that specialize on particular habitats tend to be rarer than species that can grow and survive anywhere (i.e. generalists)? Second, are species abundances limited by natural enemies (e.g. pathogens or herbivorous insects) that attack a species more frequently when that species becomes common? Third, do closely related species tend to have similar abundances? To answer these questions, datasets from large forest plots located throughout the tropics will be used. In each of these plots, all trees have been mapped, tagged and identified to species using identical methods. The trees are re-measured every 5 years, providing information on tree growth and survival. This extensive database should provide new insights into the drivers of commonness and rarity in diverse tropical forest communities.

More information about this research project

PHOTO: Diverse tropical forest on Barro Colorado Island, Panama.  Data from this site will be used in the project.