Testing the competition-colonization trade-off and its correlations with functional trait variations among subtropical tree species
The competition-colonization trade-off, by which species can partition spatial niches, is a potentially important mechanism allowing the maintenance of species diversity in plant communities. We examined whether there was evidence for this trade-off among tree species in a subtropical forest and how it correlated with eight functional traits. We developed and estimated a metric for colonization ability that incorporates both fecundity and seed dispersal based on seed trap data and the sizes and distributions of adult trees. Competitive ability was estimated as survival probability under high crowding conditions based on neighborhood models. Although we found no significant relationship between colonization and competitive abilities, there was a significant negative correlation between long distance dispersal ability and competitive ability at the 5 cm size class. Colonizers had traits associated with faster growth, such as large leaves and low leaf lamina density, whereas competitors had traits associated with higher survival, such as dense wood. Our results imply that any trade-off between competition and colonization may be more determined by dispersal ability than by fecundity, suggesting that seed dispersal is an important contributor to diversity maintenance. Future work should test how competitive ability covaries with the components of colonization ability, as we did here.