Analyzing the spatial structure of a Sri Lankan tree species with multiple scales of clustering

Clustering at multiple critical scales may be common for plants since many different factors and processes may cause clustering. This is especially true for tropical rain forests for which theories explaining species coexistence and community structure rest heavily on spatial patterns. We used point pattern analysis to analyze the spatial structure of Shorea congestiflora, a dominant species in a 25‐ha forest dynamics plot in a rain forest at Sinharaja World Heritage Site (Sri Lanka), which apparently shows clustering at several scales. We developed cluster processes incorporating two critical scales of clustering for exploring the spatial structure of S. congestiflora and interpret it in relation to factors such as competition, dispersal limitation, recruitment limitation, and Janzen‐Connell effects.

All size classes showed consistent large‐scale clustering with a cluster radius of ∼25 m. Inside the larger clusters, small‐scale clusters with a radius of 8 m were evident for recruits and saplings, weak for intermediates, and disappeared for adults. The pattern of all trees could be divided into two independent patterns: a random pattern (nearest neighbor distance > 8 m) comprising ∼12% of the trees and a nested double‐cluster pattern. This finding suggests two independent recruitment and/or seed dispersal mechanisms. Saplings were several times as abundant as recruits and may accumulate several recruit generations. Recruits were only weakly associated with adults and occupied about half of the large‐scale clusters, but saplings almost all. This is consistent with recruitment limitation. For ∼70% (95%) of all juveniles the nearest adult was less than 26 m away (53 m), suggesting a dispersal limitation that may also be related to the critical large‐scale clustering.

Our example illustrates the manner in which the use of a specific and complex null hypothesis of spatial structure in point pattern analysis can help us better understand the biology of a species and generate specific hypotheses to be further investigated in the field.

Toshinori Okuda, I.A.U. Nimal Gunatilleke, C.V. Savitri Gunatilleke, & Thorsten Wiegand