Published online by Cambridge University Press: 27 March 2015
In this study, we tested the hypothesis that functional traits associated with nutrient impoverishment contribute to enhancing shade-tolerance (survival at low light) for the juveniles of canopy tree species in Bornean rain forests. To test the hypothesis, survival and functional traits (biomass allocation, leaf dynamics and foliar nutrient concentration) were investigated as a function of light conditions for saplings of 13 species in three forests with different levels of nutrient availability. As predicted by the hypothesis, the species in the severely nutrient-poor site (a tropical heath forest on nutrient-poor soils) showed greater shade-tolerance (>91% survival for 8 mo at 5% global site factor) than in the other two sites (mixed dipterocarp forests) (54–87% survival). Across the species, greater shade-tolerance was associated with a higher biomass allocation to roots, a slower leaf production and a higher foliar C concentration, which are considered as C-conservation traits under nutrient impoverishment. These results suggest that the juveniles of the canopy species occurring on nutrient-poor soils can enhance shade-tolerance by the same mechanisms as the adaptation to nutrient impoverishments. Tree species in nutrient-poor environments may be selected for surviving also in shaded conditions.