Plant and Soil

, Volume 319, Issue 1–2, pp 25–35 | Cite as

Soil type affects seedling shade response at low light for two Inga species from Costa Rica

  • D. T. Palow
  • S. F. Oberbauer
Regular Article


Distributions of many humid tropical tree species are associated with specific soil types. This specificity most likely results from processes at the seedling stage, but light rather than nutrient levels is generally considered the dominant limitation for seedling growth in the tropical forest understory. If nutrients are limiting and allocation to belowground resources differs, seedling growth responses to shade should also differ. Here we tested the effects of soil type and light environment on the seedling growth of two canopy tree species in the genus Inga with different soil-type and light-environment affinities as adults. Inga alba is a shade-tolerant soil generalist and I. oestediana is a light-demanding soil specialist. We used four native soils and three light levels (1 and 5% of full sun in shade houses and the forest understory). All growth variables were greatest in 5% full sun, with highest growth rates for the light-demanding soil-type specialist. Soil type significantly affected growth parameters, even at the lower light levels. The specialist grew best on the soils with the most soil phosphorus where adult trees typically occur. Leaf tissue nitrogen:phosphorus ratios suggest increased phosphorus limitation in the low phosphorus soils and with increased light level. Light and soil interacted to significantly affect seedling biomass allocation, growth, and net assimilation rates, indicating that the seedling shade responses were affected by soil type. Seedlings growing on high nutrient soil allocated less to roots and more to photosynthetic tissue. Adult distributions of these two Inga species may be a result of the different growth rates of seedlings in response to the interactive effects of light and soil.


La Selva biological station Net assimilation rate Red:far-red ratio Relative growth rate Shade tolerance 



We would like to thank David Clark, Deborah Clark, J. Alexandra Reich, David Lee, Ralph Saporito, Christina Ugarte, Andrea Garcia, Matt Clark, and David Janos for advice and or assistance in conducting this research. Thomas Philippi and Chad Husby helped with the statistical design and analysis. Partial support for the contribution of SFO to the project came from National Science Foundation ATM-0223284. We thank the Organization for Tropical Studies for logistical support and the 3M Corporation for donating the energy film used in the shadehouses. Kaoru Kitajima, Maureen A. Donnelly, and two anonymous reviewers provided helpful comments on the manuscript. This is contribution number 122 of the Tropical Biology Program at Florida International University.


  1. Agyeman VK, Swaine MD, Thompson J (1999) Responses of tropical forest seedlings to irradiance and the derivation of a light response index. J Ecol 87:815–827CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Augspurger CK (1984a) Seedling survival of tropical tree species: interactions of dispersal distance, light-gaps, and pathogens. Ecology 65:1705–1712CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Augspurger CK (1984b) Light requirements of neotropical tree seedlings: a comparative study of growth and survival. J Ecol 72:777–795CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baltzer JL, Thomas SC, Nilus R, Burslem DFRP (2005) Edaphic specialization in tropical trees: physiological correlates and responses to reciprocal transplantation. Ecology 86:3063–3077CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baraloto C, Bonal D, Goldberg DE (2006) Differential seedling growth response to soil resource availability among nine neotropical tree species. J Trop Ecol 22:487–497CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Baraloto C, Morneau F, Bonal D, Blanc L, Ferry B (2007) Seasonal water stress tolerance and habitat associations with four neotropical tree genera. Ecology 88:478–489PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Barton AM, Fetcher N, Redhead S (1989) The relationship between treefall gap size and light flux in a neotropical rain forest in Costa Rica. J Trop Ecol 5:437–439CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bigelow S, Canham C (2002) Community organization of tree species along soil gradients in a north-eastern USA forest. J Ecol 90:188–200CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Blundell AG, Peart DR (2001) Growth strategies of a shade-tolerant tropical tree: the interactive effects of canopy gaps and simulated herbivory. J Ecol 89:608–615CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bungard RA, Zipperlen SA, Press MC, Scholes JD (2002) The influence of nutrients on growth and photosynthesis of seedlings of two rainforest dipterocarp species. Funct Plant Biol 29:505–515CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Burslem DFRP, Grubb PJ, Turner IM (1995) Responses to nutrient addition among shade-tolerant tree seedlings of lowland tropical rain forest in Singapore. J Ecol 83:113–122CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chazdon RL, Fetcher N (1984) Photosynthetic light environments in a lowland tropical rain forest in Costa Rica. J Ecol 72:553–564CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Chiariello NR, Mooney HA, Williams K (1989) Growth, carbon allocation and cost of plant tissues. In: Pearcy RW, Ehleringer J, Mooney HA, Rundel PW (eds) Plant physiological ecology: Field methods and instrumentation. Chapman and Hall, London, pp 327–366Google Scholar
  14. Clark DA, Clark DB, Read JM (1998) Edaphic variation and the mesoscale distribution of tree species in a neotropical rain forest. J Ecol 86:101–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Clark DB, Palmer MW, Clark DA (1999) Edaphic factors and the landscape-scale distributions of tropical rain forest trees. Ecology 80:2662–2675Google Scholar
  16. Denslow JS (1987) Tropical rainforest gaps and tree species diversity. Annu Rev Ecol Systemat 18:431–451CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Denslow JS, Schultz JC, Vitousek PM, Strain BR (1990) Growth responses of tropical shrubs to treefall gap environments. Ecology 71:165–179CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Duivenvoorden JF (1995) Tree species composition and rainforest–environment relationships in the middle Caqueta, Colombia, NW Amazon. Vegetatio 120:91–113CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Evans CA, Miller EK, Friedland AJ (2001) Effect of nitrogen and light on nutrient concentrations and associated physiological responses in birch and fir seedlings. Plant Soil 236:197–207CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fourqurean JW, Zieman JC, Powell GVN (1992) Phosphorus limitation of primary production in Florida Bay: evidence from the C: N: P ratios of the dominant seagrass Thalassia testudinum. Limnol Oceanogr 37:162–171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Grubb PJ, Lee WG, Kollmann J, Wilson JB (1996) Interaction of irradiance and soil nutrient supply on growth of seedlings of ten European tall-shrub species and Fagus sylvatica. J Ecol 84:827–840CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gunatilleke CVS, Gunatilleke IAUN, Perera GAD, Burslem DFRP, Ashton PMS, Ashton PS (1997) Responses to nutrient addition among seedlings of eight closely related species of Shorea in Sri Lanka. J Ecol 85:301–311CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hartshorn GS, Hammel BE (1994) Vegetation types and floristic patterns. In: McDade LA, Bawa KS, Hespenheide HA, Hartshorn GS (eds) La Selva: Ecology and natural history of a neotropical rain forest. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 73–89Google Scholar
  24. Huante P, Rincón E, Chapin FS (1998) Foraging for nutrients, responses to changes in light, and competition in tropical deciduous tree seedlings. Oecologia 117:209–216CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Janos D (1980) Vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizae affect lowland tropical rain forest plant growth. Ecology 61:151–162CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kitajima K (1994) Relative importance of photosynthetic traits and allocation patterns as correlates of seedling shade tolerance of 13 tropical trees. Oecologia 98:419–428CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Koerselman W, Meuleman AFM (1996) The vegetation N:P ratio: a new tool to detect the nature of nutrient limitation. J Appl Ecol 33:1441–1450CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Latham RE (1992) Co-occurring tree species change rank in seedling performance with resources varied experimentally. Ecology 73:2129–2144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lee D, Baskaran K, Mansor M, Mohamad H, Yap SK (1996) Irradiance and spectral quality affect Asian tropical rain forest tree seedling development. Ecology 77:568–580CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lee D, Oberbauer SF, Krishnapilay B, Mansor M, Mohamad H, Yap SK (1997) Effects of irradiance and spectral quality on seedling development of two Southeast Asian Hopea species. Oecologia 110:1–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. McHargue LA (1999) Factors affecting the nodulation and growth of tropical woody legumes. Ph.D. dissertation. Florida International University, MiamiGoogle Scholar
  32. Meziane D, Shipley B (1999) Interacting components of interspecific relative growth rate: constancy and change under differing conditions of light and nutrient supply. Funct Ecol 13:611–622CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Myster RW (2006) Light and nutrient effects on growth and allocation of Inga vera (Leguminosae), a successional tree of Puerto Rico. Can J For Res 36:1121–1128CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Osunkoya OO, Ash JE, Hopkins MS, Graham AW (1992) Factors affecting survival of tree seedlings in North Queensland rainforests. Oecologia 91:569–578CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Palmiotto PA, Davies SJ, Vogt KA, Ashton MS, Vogt DJ, Ashton PS (2004) Soil-related habitat specialization in dipterocarp rain forest tree species in Borneo. J Ecol 92:609–623CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Peace WJH, Grubb PJ (1982) Interaction of light and mineral nutrient supply in the growth of Impatiens parviflora. New Phytol 90:127–150CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Pearcy RW (1989) Radiation and light measurements. In: Pearcy RW, Ehleringer J, Mooney HA, Rundel PW (eds) Plant physiological ecology: Field methods and instrumentation. Chapman and Hall, London, pp 97–116Google Scholar
  38. Pearcy RW (1990) Sunflecks and photosynthesis in plant canopies. Annu Rev Plant Physiol 41:421–543CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Poorter L (1999) Growth responses of 15 rain-forest tree species to a light gradient: the relative importance of morphological and physiological traits. Funct Ecol 13:396–410CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Queensborough SA, Burslem DF, Garwood NC, Valencia R (2007) Habitat niche partitioning by 16 species of Myristicaeae in Amazonian Ecuador. Plant Ecol 192:193–207CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Richards PW, Walsh RPD, Baillie IC, Greg-Smith P (1996) The tropical rain forest: An ecological study. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  42. Russo SE, Davies SJ, King DA, Tan S (2005) Soil-related performance variation and distributions of tree species in a Bornean rain forest. J Ecol 93:879–889CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Russo SE, Brown P, Tan S, Davies SJ (2008) Interspecific demographic trade-offs and soil-related habitat associations of tree species along resource gradients. J Ecol 96:192–203Google Scholar
  44. Sanford RL, Paaby P, Luvall JC, Phillips E (1994) Climate, geomorphology, and aquatic systems. In: McDade LA, Bawa KS, Hespenheide HA, Hartshorn GS (eds) La Selva: Ecology and natural history of a neotropical rain forest. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 19–33Google Scholar
  45. Schwendenmann L, Veldkamp E, Brenes T, O’brien JJ, Mackensen J (2003) Spatial and temporal variation in soil CO2 efflux in an old-growth neotropical rain forest, La Selva, Costa Rica. Biogeochemistry 64:111–128CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Smith H (1982) Light quality, photoreception and plant strategy. Annu Rev Plant Physiol 33:481–518CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Sollins P, Sancho MF, Mata ChR, Sanford RL (1994) Soils and soil processes research. In: McDade LA, Bawa KS, Hespenheide HA, Hartshorn GS (eds) La Selva: Ecology and natural history of a neotropical rain forest. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 34–53Google Scholar
  48. Svenning JC (2001) On the role of microenvironmental heterogeneity in the ecology and diversification of neotropical rain-forest palms (Arecaceae). Bot Rev 67:1–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Swaine MD (1996) Rainfall and soil fertility as factors limiting forest species distributions in Ghana. J Ecol 84:419–428CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. ter Steege H (1996) WINPHOT 5.0: a programme to analyze vegetation indices, light and light quality from hemispherical photographs. Tropenbos Guyana Programme, Georgetown Tropenbos, Guyana. Rep. 95-2Google Scholar
  51. Toumey JW, Korstian CF (1937) Foundations of silviculture upon an ecological basis. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  52. Valverde-Barrantes OJ, Raich JW, Russell AE (2007) Fine-root mass, growth and nitrogen content for six tropical tree species. Plant Soil 290:357–370CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Veenendaal EM, Swaine MD, Lecha RT, Walsh MF, Abebrese IK, Owusu-Afriyie K (1996) Responses of west African forest tree seedlings to irradiance and soil fertility. Funct Ecol 10:501–511CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Wilbur RL, Collaborators (1994) Vascular plants: and interim checklist. In: McDade LA, Bawa KS, Hespenheide HA, Hartshorn GS (eds) La Selva: Ecology and natural history of a neotropical rain forest. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 350–378Google Scholar
  55. Yamada T, Zuidema PA, Itoh A, Yamakura T, Ohkubo T, Kanzaki M, Tan S, Ashton P (2007) Strong habitat preference of a tropical rain forest tree does not imply large differences in population dynamics across habitats. J Ecol 95:332–342CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Zamora VN, Pennington TD (2001) Guabas y Cuajiniquiles de Costa Rica (Inga spp.). INBio, Costa RicaGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dept. of Biological SciencesFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA
  2. 2.Fairchild Tropical Botanic GardenMiamiUSA
  3. 3.Dept. of BotanyUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations