Edaphic niche differentiation among Polybotrya ferns in western Amazonia: implications for coexistence and speciation


  • Hanna Tuomisto

H. Tuomisto (hanna.tuomisto@utu.fi), Dept of Biology, Univ. of Turku, FI-20014 Turku, Finland.


To study the degree of edaphic specialization in Amazonian plants, the distribution patterns of seven species of Polybotrya ferns were studied in 109 sites in a climatically uniform area of northwestern Amazonia (Colombia, Ecuador and northern Peru). The two most abundant species of Polybotrya were found in about two-thirds of the sites with almost 7000 individuals each, the rarest species occurred in just one site with 40 individuals. Each of the seven species appeared to have a unique realised niche, when niche dimensions were defined by gradients in soil texture, soil cation content, and inundation. The species also differed in how broadly or narrowly they were distributed along each gradient. Some species were practically never found in the same sites, whereas others co-occurred with a high frequency, in spite of showing clearly different abundance patterns among sites. A single site only contains a small part of the edaphic variation present in the landscape, and a small proportion of any species’ niche space, so broad-scale studies are needed to adequately describe and compare species’ niches and to assess to what degree niche differences promote species coexistence. The distribution patterns in Polybotrya are consistent with, but do not prove, that ecological speciation may have been important in the radiation of the genus. If such a pattern is found to be common in other Amazonian plants, this would indicate that each evolutionary lineage has adapted to the available habitats largely independently of the others.