A time to grow and a time to die: A new way to analyze the dynamics of size, light, age, and death of tropical trees

C. Jessica E. Metcalf, Carol C. Horvitz, Shripad Tuljapurkar, Deborah A. Clark

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


In tropical rain forests, rates of forest turnover and tree species' life-history differences are shaped by the life expectancy of trees and the time taken by seedlings to reach the canopy. These measures are therefore of both theoretical and applied interest. However, the relationship between size, age, and life expectancy is poorly understood. In this paper, we show how to obtain, in a dynamic environment, age-related population parameters from data on size and light transitions and survival of individuals over single time steps. We accomplish this goal by combining two types of analysis (integral projection modeling and age-from-stage analysis for variable environments) in a new way. The method uses an index of crown illumination (CI) to capture the key tree life-history axis of movement through the light environment. We use this method to analyze data on nine tropical tree species, chosen to sample two main gradients, juvenile recruitment niche (gap/nongap) and adult crown position niche (subcanopy, canopy-emergent). We validate the method using independent estimates of age and size from growth rings and 14C from some of the same species at the same site and use our results to examine correlations among age-related population parameters. Finally, we discuss the implications of these new results for life histories of tropical trees.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2766-2778
Number of pages13
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2009
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


  • Age
  • Costa Rica
  • Crown illumination index
  • Environmental stochasticity
  • Integral projection model
  • La selva
  • Light
  • Markov chains
  • Mortality trajectory
  • Remaining life expectancy
  • Size structure
  • Tropical trees


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