Climate anomalies and neighbourhood crowding interact in shaping tree growth in old-growth and selectively logged tropical forests


  1. Climate extremes and biotic interactions at the neighbourhood scale affect tropical forest dynamics with long-term consequences for biodiversity, global carbon cycling and climate change mitigation. However, forest disturbance may change crowding intensity, and thus the relative contribution of climate extremes and neighbourhood interactions on tree growth, thereby influencing tropical forest resistance and resilience to climate change. Here, we aim to evaluate the separate and interactive effects of climate and neighbours on tree growth in old-growth and disturbed tropical forests.
  2. We used 30 years of growth measurements for over 300 tropical tree species from 15 forest plots in French Guiana to investigate the separate and interactive effects of climate anomalies (in solar radiation, maximum temperature, vapour pressure deficit and climatic water deficit) and neighbourhood crowding on individual tree growth. Contrasting old-growth and selectively logged forests, we also examined how disturbance history affects tree growth sensitivity to climate and neighbours. Finally, for the most abundant 100 species, we evaluated the role of 12 functional traits pertaining to water relations, light and carbon use in mediating tree growth sensitivity to climate anomalies, neighbourhood crowding and their interactions.
  3. Climate anomalies tied to heat and drought stress and neighbourhood crowding independently reduced tree growth, and showed positive interactive effects which attenuated their separate effects on tree growth. Their separate and interactive effects were stronger in disturbed than undisturbed forests. Fast-growing species (i.e. higher intrinsic growth rates) were more abundant in disturbed forests and more sensitive to climate anomalies and neighbourhood crowding. Traits related to water relations, light and carbon use captured species sensitivities to different climate anomalies and neighbourhood crowding levels but were weak predictors of their interactions.
  4. Synthesis: Our results demonstrate that climate anomalies and neighbourhood crowding can interact to shape tropical tree growth, suggesting that considering the biotic context may improve predictions of tropical forest dynamics facing altered climate regimes. Furthermore, species traits can capture tree growth sensitivity to the separate effects of climate and neighbours, suggesting that better representing leading functional dimensions in tropical tree strategies offers a promising way towards a better understanding of the underlying ecological mechanisms that govern tropical forest dynamics.

Journal of Ecology