Soil resource availability shapes community trait structure in a species-rich dipterocarp forest


Correspondence author. E-mail:


1. Habitat filtering and limiting similarity have been proposed as two opposing forces structuring community memberships. Community assembly theory proposes habitat filtering as a mechanism restricting community membership according to the ecological strategies of species in a given environment. Limiting similarity posits that some species exclude others that are ecologically similar.

2. We quantified nine ecophysiological and life-history traits for 80 dipterocarp species in the 52-ha Lambir Forest Dynamics Plot (FDP; Lambir Hills National Park, Sarawak, Malaysia). We studied forests on four soil types differing in fertility and moisture, focusing on soil resource availabilities as environmental determinants of habitat filtering processes. We used a null-model approach to detect the strengths of habitat filtering and limiting similarity. We quantified the relative contributions of soil resources (nutrients and water) to habitat filtering by comparing the strength of habitat filtering processes (i.e. effect sizes) at the overall plot scale and at the individual soil-type scale. We also compared the strengths of assembly processes among soil types.

3. Compared to a null model at microscale (20 × 20 m), trait range and variance were reduced for seven of nine functional traits, suggesting the importance of habitat filtering in the dipterocarp community. We also found a broader distribution of five traits, and more even spacing for seven traits (20 × 20 m), which is consistent with the concept of limiting similarity. Randomizations that swapped species occurrences within soil types (i.e. null models removing soil effects in assembly processes) were much closer to observed values, and there were no phylogenetic constraints on habitat association. Hence, soil resource availability acted as a habitat filtering mechanism in the FDP; relative contributions to habitat filtering ranged from 35% for seed mass to 77% for relative growth rate. Furthermore, soil types apparently affected the strengths of habitat filtering and limiting similarity.

4.Synthesis. We demonstrate that soil resource availability is a crucial determinant of habitat filtering in this species-rich tropical rain forest; the strengths of assembly processes differed among soil types. Variation in soil resource availability can shape the distribution of traits through community assembly processes, promoting trait diversification and species coexistence.