Abstract Population structures were drawn for selected West African rain forest canopy tree species to evaluate whether regeneration was present. Regional variability was studied for five sites near the border between Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire. Population structures were highly variable. Three major types of population structures are recognised: a decrease in number of individuals with size, the typically inverse J-shaped curve indicating sufficient regeneration; an increase in number of individuals with size, indicating an absent or sparse regeneration; variable, consisting of strongly fluctuating patterns, in most cases many small individuals, no intermediate and many large ones. At a regional scale, most species show variable population structures. Population structures are static representations of a population composition at a certain moment in time. More long term information on population dynamics is needed to be able to interpret population structures correctly. To sustain the yield from tropical forest a minimum of juvenile trees of commercial species is required to compensate for logging of mature trees. The level of this minimum is hard to indicate without data on population dynamics. Regional variation in population structures warrants the use of local information as a basis for selection criteria of individual trees.