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Integrating regional and continental scale comparisons of tree composition in Amazonian terra firme forests

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Abstract:

We contrast regional and continental-scale comparisons of the floristic composition of terra firme forest in South Amazonia, using 55 plots across Amazonia and a subset of 30 plots from northern Peru and Ecuador. Firstly, we examine the floristic patterns using both genus- or species-level data and find that the species-level analysis more clearly distinguishes different plot clusters. Secondly, we compare the patterns and causes of floristic differences at regional and continental scales. At a continental scale, ordination analysis shows that species of Lecythidaceae and Sapotaceae are gradually replaced by species of Arecaceae and Myristicaceae from eastern to western Amazonia. These floristic gradients are correlated with gradients in soil fertility and to dry season length, similar to previous studies. At a regional scale, similar patterns are found within north-western Amazonia, where differences in soil fertility distinguish plots where species of Lecythidaceae, characteristic of poor soils, are gradually replaced by species of Myristicaceae on richer soils. The main coordinate of this regional-scale ordination correlates mainly with concentrations of available calcium and magnesium. Thirdly, we ask at a regional scale within north-western Amazonia, whether soil fertility or other distance dependent processes are more important for determining variation in floristic composition. A Mantel test indicates that both soils and geographical distance have a similar and significant role in determining floristic similarity across this region. Overall, these results suggest that regional-scale variation in floristic composition can rival continental scale differences within Amazonian terra firme forests, and that variation in floristic composition at both scales is dependent on a range of processes that include both habitat specialisation related to edaphic conditions and other distance-dependent processes. To fully account for regional scale variation in continental studies of floristic composition, future floristic studies should focus on forest types poorly represented at regional scales in current datasets such as terra firme forests with high soil fertility from north-western Amazonia.

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