Understanding the degree to which ecological niches structure tropical tree communities requires an understanding of life-history strategies of hundreds of coexisting tree species which differ in functional traits, demography and resource use. We quantify how the functional traits of the tree species combine to define demographic rates and responses to resource availability, and how between-species variation in life-history strategies drives forest dynamics and species coexistence. To this end, we link demographic rates of tropical tree species and their sensitivity to light and soil moisture to their functional traits.
In order to evaluate the consequences of between-species variation in demography and resource use for emergent forest properties, we use a structurally-realistic forest simulation model. We apply a novel modeling approach that reduces the high-dimensional characterization of demography and resource use of single tree species to few trade-off axes reflecting continuous variation of life-history strategies between the tree species. The model is used to conduct modeling experiments to explore key questions of tropical forest ecology, e.g. How much demographic diversity do we need to explain forest succession? How does demographic diversity drive ecosystem function?