Nitrogen-fixing legumes and silvigenesis in a rain forest in French Guiana: a taxonomic and ecological approach



The nodulation status and nodule morphology of 62 taxa of Leguminosae in a rain forest in French Guiana are reported according to the taxonomy of the family. The N2-fixing species are then fitted into ‘functional groups’ according to their behaviour towards illumination, in order to evaluate their importance in the global dynamics of the stand. The results showed that 67% of the observed species were nodulated (50, 71 and 77% of the Caesalpiniaceae, Mimosaceae and Papilionaceae, respectively). In the Caesalpiniaceae, nodule-like structures were reported in the genus Crudia and in the species Senna quinquangulata, although this needs to be confirmed. All the nodules studied in this subfamily were astragaloid and mucunoid. In the Mimosaceae, the ability of a new genus (Balizia) to form nodules was reported, as well as nodulation on aerial roots in Inga stipularis. The nodules studied were mainly mucunoid. In the Papilionaceae, nodulation on aerial roots in Poecilanthe hostmannii and on conventional roots of the genus Paramachaerium were reported for the first time. All types of nodular structures were found in this subfamily but the structures were quite uniform at the tribal level. These are consistent with suggestions that nodule morphology has a taxonomic value. Eight functional groups of N2-fixing species are proposed, ranging from light dependance to shade tolerance. These results indicate the important role played by N2-fixing species in the global dynamics of the stand and that N inputs by N2 fixation were continuous along the gradient of energetic resources that characterizes the silvigenetic process. The interactions between the photosynthetic capacities of the species and the ability to fix N2 in low light conditions are discussed.