The Relationship between Local Abundance and Distribution of Rain Forest Trees across Environmental Gradients in India


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We tested whether local abundance of rain forest trees in the medium elevation wet forests of the southern Western Ghats (WG) was related to environmental tolerance, life form, and geographical range. We selected trees in medium elevation wet forests (750–1700 m asl) of the southern WG, using two data bases: a small plot (30 × 30 m) data base of 288 species of trees (≥ 3 cm dbh) in 33 plots totaling 2.97 ha, and a data base of 135 species of tree (≥ 10 cm dbh) in larger plots of 1 ha each, totaling 4.84 ha. The species density per hectare and number of records in the plot network was used in a factor analysis to give a measure of the local abundance of each species. The altitude and seasonality ranges of these species in the WG was assessed from independent data bases and used to generate an environmental tolerance score. Results indicated that as a species became locally more abundant, it occurred across a wider range of environmental gradients, but regional distribution was not related to geographical distribution. Understory species tended to be rarer with smaller range sizes and lower environmental tolerances than overstory species. Climate change is predicted to have drastic effects on restricted range species with limited environmental tolerances.