Importance of soils, topography and geographic distance in structuring central Amazonian tree communities
Question: What is the relative contribution of geographic distance, soil and topographic variables in determining the community floristic patterns and individual tree species abundances in the nutrient-poor soils of central Amazonia? Location: Central Amazonia near Manaus, Brazil. Methods: Our analysis was based on data for 1105 tree species (≥ 10 cm dbh) within 40 1-ha plots over a ca. 1000-km2 area. Slope and 26 soil-surface parameters were measured for each plot. A main soil-fertility gradient (encompassing soil texture, cation content, nitrogen and carbon) and five other uncorrelated soil and topographic variables were used as potential predictors of plant-community composition. Mantel tests and multiple regressions on distance matrices were used to detect relationships at the community level, and ordinary least square (OLS) and conditional autoregressive (CAR) models were used to detect relationships for individual species abundances. Results: Floristic similarity declined rapidly with distance over small spatial scales (0–5 km), but remained constant (ca. 44%) over distances of 5 to 30 km, which indicates lower beta diversity than in western Amazonian forests. Distance explained 1/3 to 1/2 more variance in floristics measures than environmental variables. Community composition was most strongly related to the main soil-fertility gradient and C:N ratio. The main fertility gradient and pH had the greatest impact of species abundances. About 30% of individual tree species were significantly related to one or more soil/topographic parameters. Conclusions: Geographic distance and the main fertility gradient are the best predictors of community floristic composition, but other soil variables, particularly C:N ratio, pH, and slope, have strong relationships with a significant portion of the tree community.