The authors have provided a short synopsis of the paper and a few photos.
Walking through a forest in Taiwan is a very different experience from walking through a forest in the USA. The tree species are completely different in identity and very different in form. Such spatial variation in biodiversity is one of the oldest recognized, yet least understood patterns in biology. Specifically, the role of relatively fine-grained (e.g. 20 m) environmental variation in driving tree community turnover in diverse tropical forests is unclear. Part of the difficulty in understanding the role of the environment stems from the fact that seeds regularly disperse across such distances. Seed dispersal thus may obscure environmental effects on species distributions. Inspired by classic natural studies of selection, we present an approach to understanding how environmental conditions drive changes in tree communities through space.
We used a long-term study of a 20-ha forest plot in Taiwan to reveal how tree traits interact with environmental gradients to affect species growth and mortality. By tracking thousands of individual trees over five years, we were able to more directly link species performance to environmental gradients. We identified traits that corresponded to the greatest variation in tree performance from site to site. For example, we found that species with low wood density had relatively high survival on steep slopes and in soils with high available phosphorous. Such sites may be favorable for fast growing species that exploit resource-rich environments. The trait-environment interactions we identified may underlie spatial niche differentiation among species, promoting species coexistence and partly explaining the diversity of trees.