How Do Tropical Plants Adapt to Their Environment?

Updated February 28, 2018

Tropical plants can be dizzying in their diversity. High temperatures and substantial, though often seasonal, precipitation characterise their low-latitude habitats, where the plants exhibit several adaptations for functioning in their local ecological systems.

Ecological Niches

In a tropical forest, several distinct ecological layers are often discernible, and partly represent a host of plant species taking advantage of different niches to reduce competition and maximise resource-use. From towering, broadleaved evergreens in the upper canopy to epiphytic vines in the understory, a great diversity of species share close quarters in this community.

Pollination and Dispersal

Many tropical plants utilise animals in their reproduction, with nectar-eaters such as hummingbirds pollinating their flowers and frugivores such as fruit bats and chimpanzees distributing their seeds. The relationships can be complex: Better than 700 kinds of tropical figs have evolved in concert with their own respective pollinating fig wasp.

Dry Season

In tropical areas that experience a distinct dry season, certain trees may adopt a deciduous lifestyle, dropping their leaves during extended droughts to avoid dessication. The massive baobabs of tropical Africa and Australasia are examples.

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About the Author

Ethan Shaw is a writer and naturalist living in Oregon. He has written extensively on outdoor recreation, ecology and earth science for outlets such as Backpacker Magazine, the Bureau of Land Management and Atlas Obscura. Shaw holds a Bachelor of Science in wildlife ecology and a graduate certificate in geographic information systems from the University of Wisconsin.