, Volume 338, Issue 1-2, pp 301-309
Date: 02 Sep 2010

Buttress trees elevate soil heterogeneity and regulate seedling diversity in a tropical rainforest

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Buttress trees are prominent in tropical rainforests, providing mechanical support for canopy trees. Other ecological functions of these structures remain unclear. Here we demonstrate that buttresses are physical structures that regulate soil moisture, soil nutrient status and seedling diversity near tree trunks. We monitored soil moisture over a year in plots on the uphill, downhill and lateral sides of buttresses on a tropical seasonal rainforest slope in Xishuangbanna, Southwest China. Soil nutrient status was examined in dry and rainy season and seedlings were identified and counted in the plots. Leaf litter accumulation was sampled at the end of the study. Higher levels of soil moisture were maintained uphill of the buttresses throughout the year and leaf litter accumulation was also much higher. Total soil carbon, total N, and hydrolysable N were much higher on the uphill side but other nutrient concentrations did not differ significantly. Seedling species composition varied significantly among different locations with the densest and most diverse seedling assemblages on the uphill side. This study illustrates an important function of buttress trees in providing soil heterogeneity and promoting seedling diversity in rainforests.

Responsible Editor: Rafael S. Oliveira.