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Theoretical models indicate that trade-offs between growth and survival strategies of tree species can lead to coexistence across life history stages (ontogeny) and physical conditions experienced by individuals. There exist predicted physiological mechanisms regulating these trade-offs, such as an investment in leaf characters that may increase survival in stressful environments at the expense of investment in bole or root growth. Confirming these mechanisms, however, requires that potential environmental, ontogenetic, and trait influences are analyzed together. Here, we infer growth and mortality of tree species given size, site, and light characteristics from forest inventory data from Wisconsin to test hypotheses about growth-survival trade-offs given species functional trait values under different ontogenetic and environmental states. A series of regression analyses including traits and rates their interactions with environmental and ontogenetic stages supported the relationships between traits and vital rates expected from the expectations from tree physiology. A combined model including interactions between all variables indicated that relationships between demographic rates and functional traits supports growth-survival trade-offs and their differences across species in high-dimensional niche space. The combined model explained 65% of the variation in tree growth and supports a concept of community coexistence similar to Hutchinson's n-dimensional hypervolume and not a low-dimensional niche model or neutral model.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Models, Biological, Models, Theoretical, Survival Analysis, Trees