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ISRN Forestry
Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 743617, 16 pages
Review Article

The Functional Ecology and Diversity of Tropical Tree Assemblages through Space and Time: From Local to Regional and from Traits to Transcriptomes

Department of Plant Biology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA

Received 1 November 2012; Accepted 19 November 2012

Academic Editors: M. S. Di Bitetti, N. Frascaria-Lacoste, and L. Montagnani

Copyright © 2012 Nathan G. Swenson. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Tropical tree biodiversity motivates an extremely large amount of research and some of the most passionate debates in ecology and evolution. Research into tropical tree biodiversity generally has been very biased towards one axis of biodiversity-species diversity. Less work has focused on the functional diversity of tropical trees and I argue that this has greatly limited our ability to not only understand the species diversity in tropical tree assemblages, but their distributions through space and time. Increasingly plant ecologists have turned to measuring plant functional traits to estimate functional diversity and to uncover the ecological and evolutionary mechanisms underlying the distribution and dynamics of tropical trees. Here I review much of the recent work on functional traits in tropical tree community ecology. I will highlight what I believe are the most important findings and which research directions are not likely to progress in the future. I also argue that functionally based investigations of tropical trees are likely to be revolutionized in the coming years through the incorporation of functional genomic approaches. The paper ends with a discussion of three major research areas or areas in need of focus that could lead to rapid advances in functionally based investigations of tropical trees.