Summary1 Associations between abiotic variables and patterns of species distribution and abundance are a major preoccupation of community ecologists. In many habitats, this association is manifest in discrete zones of vegetation.
2 We used statistical methods to examine tree species distribution patterns in relatively undisturbed regions of the Sundarbans of Bangladesh. We tested the hypothesis that mangroves occur in discrete zones with respect to elevation. These data were gathered with explicit attention to local and regional differences in edaphic characteristics so that species-environment relationships could be analysed at several spatial scales.
3 Correlations were also assessed between mangrove species composition and edaphic variables that co-vary with elevation, i.e. salinity, field capacity, cation exchange capacity, percentage silt, and mangrove physiognomic category (slope, basin, levee and flat).
4 Quantitative statistical analysis using randomization techniques failed to detect species zonation along any of 33 individual 200-m transects, within 1-km2 blocks, or within 1200-km2 regions.
5 Canonical correspondence analysis relating edaphic variables to species distributions accounted for a total of only 24% of the variance in species composition.
6 Our data suggest that the absence of zonation in the Bangladesh Sundarbans reflects the underlying biology of the system and is not an artefact of long-term human disturbance.