Floristic variation is high in the Neotropics, but little is known about the factors shaping this variation at the mesoscale. We examined floristic composition and its relationship with environmental factors across 220 1-ha permanent plots in tropical lowland Bolivia. For each plot, abundance of 100 species (93 tree and 7 palm species ≥10 cm diam) was obtained. Climatic data, related to rainfall seasonality and temperature, were interpolated from all available weather stations in the region, and soil properties, related to texture and fertility, were obtained for each plot. Floristic variation was strongly associated with differences in water availability and temperature, and therefore the climatic gradient shaped floristic variation more strongly than the edaphic gradient. Detrended correspondence analysis ordination divided lowland Bolivia primarily into two major groups (Southern Chiquitano region vs. the Amazon region) and a multiple response permutation procedure distinguished five floristic regions. Overall, the tested environmental variables differed significantly among the five regions. Using indicator species analysis, we distinguished 82 strong indicator species, which had significant environmental preferences for one floristic region. These species can be used as indicators of environmental conditions or to determine which floristic region a certain forest belongs. Given the predicted decreases in rainfall and increases in temperature for tropical lowland forests, our gradient approach suggests that species composition may shift drastically with climate change.
Abstract in Spanish is available at http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/loi/btp.