Habitat association among Amazonian tree species: a landscape-scale approach


Oliver Phillips, School of Geography, Earth and Biosphere Institute, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK (e-mail o.phillips@geog.leeds.ac.uk).


  • 1Unravelling which factors affect where tropical trees grow is an important goal for ecologists and conservationists. At the landscape scale, debate is mostly focused on the degree to which the distributions of tree species are determined by soil conditions or by neutral, distance-dependent processes. Problems with spatial autocorrelation, sparse soil sampling, inclusion of species-poor sites with extreme edaphic conditions, and the difficulty of obtaining sufficient sample sizes have all complicated assessments for high diversity tropical forests.
  • 2We evaluated the extent and pervasiveness of habitat association of trees within a 10 000 km2 species-rich lowland landscape of uniform climate in south-west Amazonia. Forests growing on two non-flooded landscape units were inventoried using 88 floristic plots and detailed soil analyses, sampling up to 849 tree species. We applied single-species and community-level analytical techniques (frequency-distributions of presence records, association analysis, indicator species analysis, ordination, Mantel correlations, and multiple regression of distance matrices) to quantify soil/floristic relationships while controlling for spatial autocorrelation.
  • 3Obligate habitat-restriction is very rare: among 230 tree species recorded in ≥ 10 localities only five (2.2%) were always restricted to one landscape unit or the other.
  • 4However, many species show a significant tendency to habitat association. For example, using Monte Carlo randomization tests, of the 34 most dominant species across the landscape the distributions of 26 (76.5%) are significantly related to habitat. We applied density-independent and frequency-independent estimates of habitat association and found that rarer species tend to score higher, suggesting that our full community estimates of habitat association are still underestimated due to the inadequate sampling of rarer species.
  • 5Community-level floristic variation across the whole landscape is related to the variation in 14 of 16 measured soil variables, and to the geographical distances between samples.
  • 6Multiple regression of distance matrices shows that 10% of the floristic variation can be attributed to spatial autocorrelation, but even after accounting for this at least 40% is attributable to measured environmental variation.
  • 7Our results suggest that substrate-mediated local processes play a much more important role than distance-dependent processes in structuring forest composition in Amazonian landscapes.