Importance of topography for tree species habitat distributions in a terra firme forest in the Colombian Amazon

Aims: To test the relative importance of topography versus soil chemistry in defining tree species-habitat associations in a terra firme Amazonian forest.

Method: We evaluated habitat associations for 612 woody species using alternative habitat maps generated from topography and soil chemistry in the 25-ha Amacayacu Forest Dynamics Plot, Colombian Amazon. We assessed the ability of each habitat map to explain the community-level patterns of species-habitat associations using two methods of habitat randomization and different sample size thresholds (i.e., species’ abundance).

Results: The greatest proportion of species-habitat associations arose from topographically-defined habitats (55% to 63%) compared to soil chemistry-defined (19% to 40%) or topography plus soil chemistry-defined habitats (18% to 42%). Results were robust to the method of habitat randomization and to sample size threshold.

Conclusions: Our results demonstrate that certain environmental factors may be more influential than others in defining forest-level patterns of community assembly and that comparison of the ability of different environmental variables to explain habitat associations is a crucial step in testing hypotheses about the mechanisms underlying assembly. Our results point to topography-driven hydrological variation as a key factor structuring tree species distributions in what are commonly considered homogeneous Amazonian terra firme forests.

Daniel Zuleta, Sabina E. Russo, Andrés Barona, Juan S. Barreto-Silva, Dairon Cardenas, Nicolas Castaño, Stuart J. Davies, Matteo Detto, Sonia Sua, Benjamin L. Turner, & Alvaro Duque
Plant and Soil