What does this plant tell about plant functional ecology?

This is a 23 year old seedling of a tropical canopy tree, Tachigali versicolor. It was tagged by Kaoru in June 1985 on Barro Colorado Island soon after it germinated, along with 10,000 other offspring of a mother tree. Many of its siblings have died, but this tiny tree has survived, growing very slowly in deeply shaded understory of a moist tropical forest, making 1.5 leaves per year. Such is a typical conservative strategy of shade tolerant tree species, placing high priority in survival over fast growth. But, in order to complete its life cycle, it must grow, taking chance when light availability improves with tree fall and other types of disturbance to the forest canopy. In the Kitajima lab, we examine functional significance of physiological and morphological traits of plants, especially seedling and canopy leaf traits of tropical woody species. Many of these studies comparing functional traits and their links demographic characteristics  across many species point to trait-mediated trade-offs between growth and survival; species that survival well (such as shade tolerant tree seedlings) can grow only slowly. 

© Kaoru Kitajima 2016