Aims To identify the relative contributions of environmental determinism, dispersal limitation and historical factors in the spatial structure of the floristic data of inselbergs at the local and regional scales, and to test if the extent of species spatial aggregation is related to dispersal abilities.
Location Rain forest inselbergs of Equatorial Guinea, northern Gabon and southern Cameroon (western central Africa).
Methods We use phytosociological relevés and herbarium collections obtained from 27 inselbergs using a stratified sampling scheme considering six plant formations. Data analysis focused on Rubiaceae, Orchidaceae, Melastomataceae, Poaceae, Commelinaceae, Acanthaceae, Begoniaceae and Pteridophytes. Data were investigated using ordination methods (detrended correspondence analysis, DCA; canonical correspondence analysis, CCA), Sørensen's coefficient of similarity and spatial autocorrelation statistics. Comparisons were made at the local and regional scales using ordinations of life-form spectra and ordinations of species data.
Results At the local scale, the forest-inselberg ecotone is the main gradient structuring the floristic data. At the regional scale, this is still the main gradient in the ordination of life-form spectra, but other factors become predominant in analyses of species assemblages. CCA identified three environmental variables explaining a significant part of the variation in floristic data. Spatial autocorrelation analyses showed that both the flora and the environmental factors are spatially autocorrelated: the similarity of species compositions within plant formations decreasing approximately linearly with the logarithm of the spatial distance. The extent of species distribution was correlated with their a priori dispersal abilities as assessed by their diaspore types.
Main conclusions At a local scale, species composition is best explained by a continuous cline of edaphic conditions along the forest-inselberg ecotone, generating a wide array of ecological niches. At a regional scale, these ecological niches are occupied by different species depending on the available local species pool. These subregional species pools probably result from varying environmental conditions, dispersal limitation and the history of past vegetation changes due to climatic fluctuations.