Spatial variation in canopy structure induces highly variable patterns of light availability for juveniles and understorey trees (Nicotra et al. 1999, Oberbauer et al. 1988, Tang et al. 1999). In the heterogeneous light environment, plasticity in resource use is essential for survival of juveniles and hence maintenance of populations (Valladares et al. 2000). One of the most striking characteristics of plants in their response to a given resource availability is their capacity to change morphological traits (Küppers 1994). Previous studies have attempted to understand the significance of morphological adaptations in their contribution to competitive ability, focusing on crown form (Kohyama 1987, Sterck et al. 2003), branching pattern (King 1998), shoot architecture (Canham 1988) and leaf shape (King & Maindonald 1999, Takenaka 1994, Yamada et al. 2000). Several studies have investigated the changes in morphology of saplings or seedlings growing under different light availability across canopy gaps (Ackerly & Bazzaz 1995, King 1994, Valladares & Pearcy 1998). However, the phenotypic plasticity in morphology of saplings adapting to the fluctuation of light availability has been investigated less (Blundell & Peart 2001, Poorter & Werger 1999).