We present a model that scales from the physiological and structural traits of individual trees competing for light and nitrogen across a gradient of soil nitrogen to their community-level consequences. The model predicts the most competitive (i.e., the evolutionarily stable strategy [ESS]) allocations to foliage, wood, and fine roots for canopy and understory stages of trees growing in oldgrowth forests. The ESS allocations, revealed as analytical functions of commonly measured physiological parameters, depend not on simple root-shoot relations but rather on diminishing returns of carbon investment that ensure any alternate strategy will underperform an ESS in monoculture because of the competitive environment that the ESS creates. As such, ESS allocations do not maximize nitrogen-limited growth rates in monoculture, highlighting the underappreciated idea that the most competitive strategy is not necessarily the "best," but rather that which creates conditions in which all others are "worse." Data from 152 stands support the model's surprising prediction that the dominant structural trade-off is between fine roots and wood, not foliage, suggesting the "root-shoot" trade-off is more precisely a "root-stem" trade-off for long-lived trees. Assuming other resources are abundant, the model predicts that forests are limited by both nitrogen and light, or nearly so.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Forest dynamics
- Height-structured competition
- Perfect plasticity approximation (PPA)