The influence of ecosystem and phylogeny on tropical tree crown size and shape

Alexander Shenkin, Lisa Patrick Bentley, Imma Oliveras, Norma Salinas, Stephen Adu-Bredu, Ben Hur Marimon, Beatriz Marimon, Theresa Peprah, Efrain Lopez Choque, Lucio Trujillo Rodriguez, Edith Rosario Clemente Arenas, Christian Adonteng, John Seidu, Fabio Barbosa Passos, Simone Matias Reis, Benjamin Blonder, Miles Silman, Brian J. Enquist, Gregory P. Asner, Yadvinder Malhi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The sizes and shapes of tree crowns are of fundamental importance in ecology, yet understanding the forces that determine them remains elusive. A cardinal question facing ecologists is the degree to which general and non-specific versus ecological and context-dependent processes are responsible for shaping tree crowns. Here, we test this question for the first time across diverse tropical ecosystems. Using trees from 20 plots varying in elevation, precipitation, and ecosystem type (savanna-forest transitions) across the paleo- and neo-tropics, we test the relationship between crown dimensions and tree size. By analyzing these scaling relationships across environmental gradients, biogeographic regions, and phylogenetic distance, we extend Metabolic Scaling Theory (MST) predictions to include how local selective pressures shape variation in crown dimensions. Across all sites, we find strong agreement between mean trends and MST predictions for the scaling of crown size and shape, but large variation around the mean. While MST explained approximately half of the observed variation in tree crown dimensions, we find that local, ecosystem, and phylogenetic predictors account for the half of the residual variation. Crown scaling does not change significantly across regions, but does change across ecosystem types, where savanna tree crowns grow more quickly with tree size than forest tree crowns. Crowns of legumes were wider and larger than those of other taxa. Thus, while MST can accurately describe the central tendency of tree crown size, local ecological conditions and evolutionary history appear to modify the scaling of crown shape. Importantly, our extension of MST incorporating these differences accounts for the mechanisms driving variation in the scaling of crown dimensions across the tropics. These results are critical when scaling the function of individual trees to larger spatial scales or incorporating the size and shape of tree crowns in global biogeochemical models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalUnknown Journal
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019


  • Allometry
  • Metabolic Scaling Theory
  • Tree Architecture
  • Tree Crowns
  • Tropical Trees

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)

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