In 2000, we established a 24-ha plot in Peninsular Thailand to investigate how forest composition, structure and dynamics vary with spatial heterogeneity in resource availability. Detailed soil and topographic surveys were used to describe four edaphic habitats in the plot. Disturbance history was inferred from historical records and floristic analysis. The plot included >119 000 trees ≥1 cm dbh in 578 species, and was recensused in 2010. Species distributions, floristic turnover, stand structure, demographic rates and biomass dynamics were strongly influenced by heterogeneity in soils, topography and disturbance history. Over 75% of species were aggregated on specific edaphic habitats leading to strong compositional turnover across the plot. Soil chemistry more strongly affected species turnover than topography. Forest with high biomass and slow dynamics occurred on well-drained, low fertility ridges. The distribution and size structure of pioneer species reflected habitat-specific differences in disturbance history. Overall, above-ground biomass (AGB) increased by 0.64 Mg ha−1 y−1, from 385 to 392 Mg ha−1, an increase that was entirely attributable to recovery after natural disturbance. Forest composition and stand structure, by reflecting local disturbance history, provide insights into the likely drivers of AGB change in forests. Predicting future changes in tropical forests requires improved understanding of how soils and disturbance regulate forest dynamics.