Patterns of tree species richness in relation to environment in southeastern New South Wales, Australia



Abstract We present regression models of species richness for total tree species, two growth forms, rainforest trees (broadleaf evergreens) and eucalypts (sclerophylls), and two large subgenera of Eucalyptus. The correlative models are based on a data set of 166 tree species from 7208 plots in an area of southeastern New South Wales, Australia. Eight environmental variables are used to model the patterns of species richness, four continuous variables (mean annual temperature, rainfall, radiation and plot size), plus four categorical factors (topographic position, lithology, soil nutrient level and rainfall seasonality). Generalized linear modelling with curvilinear and interaction terms, is used to derive the models. Each model shows a significant and differing response to the environmental predictors. Maximum species richness of eucalypts occurs at high temperatures, and intermediate rainfall and radiation conditions on ridges with aseasonal rainfall and intermediate nutrient levels. Maximum richness of rainforest species occurs at high temperatures, intermediate rainfall and low radiation in gullies with summer rainfall and high nutrient levels. The eucalypt subgenera models differ in ways consistent with experimental studies of habitat preferences of the subgenera. Curvilinear and interaction terms are necessary for adequate modelling. Patterns of richness vary widely with taxonomic rank and growth form. Any theories of species diversity should be consistent with these correlative models. The models are consistent with an available energy hypothesis based on actual evapotranspiration. We conclude that studies of species richness patterns should include local (e.g. soil nutrients, topographic position) and regional (e.g. mean annual temperature, annual rainfall) environmental variables before invoking concepts such as niche saturation.