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Size-dependent species richness: trends within plant communities and across latitude




We examine how species richness and species-specific plant density (number of species and number of individuals per species, respectively) vary within community size frequency distributions and across latitude. Communities from Asia, Africa, Europe, and North, Central and South America were studied (60°4′N–41°4′S latitude) using the Gentry data base. Log–log linear stem size (diameter) frequency distributions were constructed for each community and the species richness and species-specific plant density within each size class were determined for each frequency distribution. Species richness in the smallest stem size class correlated with the Y-intercepts (β-values) of the regression curves describing each log–log linear size distributions. Two extreme community types were identified (designated as type A and type B). Type A communities had steep size distributions (i.e. large β-values), log–log linear species-richness size distributions, low species-specific plant density distributions, and a small size class (2–4 cm) containing the majority of all species but rarely conspecifics of the dominant tree species. Type B communities had shallow size distributions (i.e. small β-values), more or less uniform (and low) size class species- richness and species-specific density distributions and size-dominant species resident in the smallest size class. Type A communities were absent in the higher latitudes but increased in number towards the equator, i.e. in the smallest size class, species richness increased (and species-specific density decreased) towards the tropics. Based on our survey of type A and type B communities (and their intermediates), species richness evinces size-dependent and latitudinal trends, i.e. species richness increased with decreasing body size and most species increasingly reside in the smallest plant size class towards the tropics. Across all latitudes, a trade-off exists between the number of species and the number of individuals per species residing in the smaller size classes.

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