Soil resources and topography shape local tree community structure in tropical forests

Claire A. Baldeck, Kyle E. Harms, Joseph B. Yavitt, Robert John, Benjamin L. Turner, Renato Valencia, Hugo Navarrete, Stuart J. Davies, George B. Chuyong, David Kenfack, Duncan W. Thomas, Sumedha Madawala, Nimal Gunatilleke, Savitri Gunatilleke, Sarayudh Bunyavejchewin, Somboon Kiratiprayoon, Adzmi Yaacob, Mohd N. Nur Supardi, James W. Dalling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Both habitat filtering and dispersal limitation influence the compositional structure of forest communities, but previous studies examining the relative contributions of these processes with variation partitioning have primarily used topography to represent the influence of the environment. Here, we bring together data on both topography and soil resource variation within eight large (24-50 ha) tropical forest plots, and use variation partitioning to decompose community compositional variation into fractions explained by spatial, soil resource and topographic variables. Both soil resources and topography account for significant and approximately equal variation in tree community composition (9-34% and 5-29%, respectively), and all environmental variables together explain 13-39% of compositional variation within a plot. A large fraction of variation (19-37%) was spatially structured, yet unexplained by the environment, suggesting an important role for dispersal processes and unmeasured environmental variables. For the majority of sites, adding soil resource variables to topography nearly doubled the inferred role of habitat filtering, accounting for variation in compositional structure that would previously have been attributable to dispersal. Our results, illustrated using a new graphical depiction of community structure within these plots, demonstrate the importance of small-scale environmental variation in shaping local community structure in diverse tropical forests around the globe.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20122532
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1753
StatePublished - Feb 2013


  • Beta diversity
  • Community structure
  • Dispersal
  • Soil
  • Topography
  • Tropical forest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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