Predictions of how tropical forests will respond to future climate change are constrained by the paucity of data on the performance of tropical species under elevated growth temperatures. In particular, little is known about the potential of tropical species to acclimate physiologically to future increases in temperature. Seedlings of 10 neo-tropical tree species from different functional groups were cultivated in controlled-environment chambers under four day/night temperature regimes between 30/22 °C and 39/31 °C. Under well-watered conditions, all species showed optimal growth at temperatures above those currently found in their native range. While non-pioneer species experienced catastrophic failure or a substantially reduced growth rate under the highest temperature regime employed (i.e. daily average of 35 °C), growth in three lowland pioneers showed only a marginal reduction. In a subsequent experiment, three species (Ficus insipida, Ormosia macrocalyx, and Ochroma pyramidale) were cultivated at two temperatures determined as sub- and superoptimal for growth, but which resulted in similar biomass accumulation despite a 6°C difference in growth temperature. Through reciprocal transfer and temperature adjustment, the role of thermal acclimation in photosynthesis and respiration was investigated. Acclimation potential varied among species, with two distinct patterns of respiration acclimation identified. The study highlights the role of both inherent temperature tolerance and thermal acclimation in determining the ability of tropical tree species to cope with enhanced temperatures.