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Structural and floristic diversity of mixed tropical rain forest in New Caledonia: new data from the New Caledonian Plant Inventory and Permanent Plot Network (NC-PIPPN)

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Abstract

Aims

To describe the structural and floristic diversity of New Caledonian mixed tropical rain forest and investigate its environmental determinants.

Location

New Caledonia (SW Pacific), a biodiversity hotspot.

Methods

Structural (stem density, basal area) and floristic characteristics (composition, species richness and dissimilarity) were investigated along environmental gradients (elevation, rainfall and slope) on different substrates (ultramafic and non-ultramafic) through the New Caledonian Plant Inventory and Permanent Plots Network (NC-PIPPN, 201 plots each measuring 20 m x 20 m).

Results

A total of 28,640 trees (DBH ≥5 cm) belonging to 749 species, 240 genera and 92 families were inventoried in the NC-PIPPN. The New Caledonian mixed rain forest studied was characterized as having high stem density, basal area and species richness, and many small stems (60% of the trees <10 cm DBH and almost a quarter of species did not exceed this threshold). More than one-third of the species were rare (i.e. inventoried in less than three plots or represented by fewer than three individuals) in the plot network and floristic dissimilarity was high (Bray–Curtis index >0.70). The presence of ultramafic (UM) and non- ultramafic substrates (non-UM) combined with altitudinal and rainfall gradients were the main drivers of floristic dissimilarity, whereas the effect of geographic distance between the plots was surprisingly low. Floristic dissimilarity was very high between UM and non-UM substrates from species up to family level. About 75% of the species occurred on a single substrate type. The mixed rain forest on UM and non-UM substrates differed in floristic composition but not in structure.

Conclusions

NC-PIPPN proved to be an effective tool for investigating the woody species richness of New Caledonia as containing ca. 46% of its non-herbaceous species. However, the network's design, and more specifically its small plots, restricts its capacity to capture beta diversity and forest structure. High species richness and floristic dissimilarity confirm that New Caledonian mixed rain forest is exceptionally rich.

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