TREE SPECIES DISTRIBUTIONS IN AN UPPER AMAZONIAN FOREST

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Abstract

Not a single tree species distribution in the Amazon basin has been reliably mapped, though speculation regarding such distributions has been extensive. We present data from a network of 21 forest plots in Manu National Park, Peru, totaling >36 ha and sited over an area of ∼400 km2, to explore how tree species are distributed across upper Amazonia at a variety of spatial scales. For each of 825 tree species occurring in the plots we asked three questions: (1) Does the species have a large or small geographic range? (2) Is the species restricted to a single forest type, or is it found in several? (3) Is the species locally abundant anywhere or is it scarce everywhere? The answers served to classify a subset of species under Rabinowitz’s classification scheme for rare species. Three main conclusions emerged. First, the great majority of tree species at Manu are geographically widespread. Every species identified to date occurs elsewhere in South America, outside the department of Madre de Dios; more than two-thirds of them have been collected 1500 km away in Amazonian Ecuador. Second, 15–26% of species appear to be restricted to a single forest type, when forest types are defined by historical river dynamics (i.e., terra firme forest, mature floodplain forest, swamp forest, and primary successional floodplain forest). The proportion of restricted species declined with increasing sampling effort, making 15% a more reliable figure. Third, while 88% of species occurred at densities of <1 individual/ha over the entire network of plots, at least half occurred somewhere at densities of >1.5 individuals/ha. Extrapolating these results provides a first guess at how tree species are distributed across the western portion of the Amazon basin. We conclude with the suggestion that most tree species in the region are habitat generalists occurring over large areas of the Amazonian lowlands at low densities but large absolute population sizes.

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