, Volume 22, Issue 3, pp 755-772
Date: 09 Feb 2013

A transcontinental comparison of the diversity and composition of tropical forest understory herb assemblages

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Abstract

Although tropical forests are renowned for their high plant diversity, to date there has been no global quantitative evaluation of the local species richness of terrestrial forest herbs in tropical forests. In this paper, richness and composition of terrestrial herb assemblages is compared in tropical forests of America, Africa and South East Asia. We established 86 non-continuous transects of 445 m each. Herb species richness was analysed and compared to six environmental parameters using minimal adequate regression models and simultaneous autoregressive models. At the global scale, we found a close relationship between herb species richness and temperature parameters, with no differences between continents. The subdivision into three main taxonomic groups (ferns, monocots, dicots) showed that each group has distinct relations to environmental factors and differences in richness between continents. Most of the 72 families found have pantropical distributions but 12, 11, and 16 families were significantly over-represented in America, Africa, and Asia, respectively. Although total species richness was closely related to climatic factors, ferns, monocots and dicots were represented by distinct sets of families with varying species richness on each continent. Which species are found at a given site may thus reflect group-specific evolutionary and historical factors.