||We investigated performance trade-offs among seedlings of nine tropical tree species during a -five-year field experiment. Seedlings were grown in eight microhabitat types composed of paired gap and shaded understory sites in each of four soil types. We defined performance trade-offs relevant to coexistence as significant pairwise rank reversals for species performance between contrasting situations, of which we characterize three types: microhabitat, fitness component, and ontogenetic. Only 2 of 36 species pairs exhibited microhabitat trade-offs or reversed rankings for survival or relative growth rate (RGR) among microhabitats, and only one species pair reversed performance ranks among soil types. We found stronger evidence for rank reversals between fitness components (survival and RGR), particularly in gap vs. understory environments, suggesting a general trade-off between shade tolerance (survival in shade) and gap establishment (RGR in gaps). Third, the most frequent rank reversals between species pairs occurred between early and later ontogenetic stages, especially between fitness components in contrasting microhabitats. Overall, 15 of 36 pairs of potentially competing species exhibited some type of seedling performance trade-off, two species pairs never outperformed one another, and for 19 species pairs one species was a consistent better performer. We suggest that ontogenetic trade-offs, in concert with microhabitat and fitness component trade-offs, may contribute to species coexistence of long-lived organisms such as tropical trees.