The upper canopy of some rain forests in New Caledonia is dominated by single species. These monodominants are commonly secondary species, their dominance not persisting without disturbance. We tested whether dominance is associated with efficient uptake and use of nutrients (N, P and K), comparing between seedlings of monodominants (Nothofagus spp., Arillastrum gummiferum and Cerberiopsis candelabra) and 14 subordinates, grown in a nursery house. We also tested whether this trend applies more broadly to shade-intolerant trees that regenerate episodically (ER species) versus shade-tolerant trees that regenerate continuously (CR species). In the sun treatment, monodominants had higher photosynthetic nutrient-use efficiency and productivity for N and K, and uptake efficiency for N, P and K, than subordinates; ER species had higher photosynthetic nutrient-use efficiency for N, P and K, and uptake efficiency for N and P, than CR species. Uptake efficiency and productivity per nutrient mass were uncorrelated across species, yet Nothofagus spp., A. gummiferum and C. candelabra combined high levels of both traits for N, and Nothofagus spp. and A. gummiferum combined moderate to high levels for P, in sun-grown seedlings. This trait combination may contribute substantially to competitiveness and post-disturbance dominance on these nutrient-poor soils.