Light Response of Seedlings of a Central African Timber Tree Species, Lophira alata (Ochnaceae), and the Definition of Light Requirements. BIOTROPICA 47(6), 681–688
Light is of primary importance in structuring tropical tree communities. Light exposure at seedling and adult stages has been used to characterize the ecological profile of tropical trees, with many implications in forest management and restoration ecology. Most shadetolerance classification systems have been proposed based on empirical observations in a specific area and thus result in contradictions among categories assigned to a given species. In this study, we aimed to quantify the light requirements for seedling growth of a Central African timber tree, Lophira alata (Ochnaceae), taking into account effects of population origin. In two controlled experiments: a light response experiment and a comparative population experiment, conducted in southwestern Cameroon, using seeds collected from four populations (three from Cameroon and one from Gabon), we examined the quantitative responses to irradiance of seedlings. After 2 years, mortality was very low (<3%), even in extremely low irradiance. Growth and biomass allocation patterns varied in response to light, with intermediate irradiance (24–43%) providing optimal conditions. Light response differed between populations. The Boumba population in the northeastern edge of the species’ distribution exhibited the highest light requirements, suggesting a local adaptation. As a result of positive growth at low irradiance and maximum growth at intermediate irradiance, we concluded that L. alata exhibits characteristics of both non-pioneer and pioneer species. Implications of our results to propose an objective way to assign the light requirement for tropical tree species are discussed.