Original Paper

Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 22, Issue 9, pp 1909-1930

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Plant functional types and traits as biodiversity indicators for tropical forests: two biogeographically separated case studies including birds, mammals and termites

  • Andrew N. GillisonAffiliated withCenter for Biodiversity Management Email author 
  • , David E. BignellAffiliated withInstitute for Tropical Biology and Conservation, Universiti Malaysia SabahSchool of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Queen Mary, University of London Email author 
  • , Kenneth R. W. BrewerAffiliated withSchool of Finance and Applied Statistics, Australian National University
  • , Erick C. M. FernandesAffiliated withThe World Bank
  • , David T. JonesAffiliated withSoil Biodiversity Group, Department of Entomology, The Natural History Museum
  • , Douglas SheilAffiliated withInstitute for Tropical Biology and Conservation, Universiti Malaysia SabahSchool of Environmental Sciences and Management, Southern Cross UniversityInstitute of Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC) at Ruhija, Bwindi Impenetrable National ParkCenter for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)
  • , Peter H. MayAffiliated withDepto de Desenvolvimento, Agricultura e Sociedade, Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro
  • , Allan D. WattAffiliated withCentre for Ecology and Hydrology
  • , Reginaldo ConstantinoAffiliated withDepartamento de Zoologia, Universidada de Brasília
    • , Eduardo G. CoutoAffiliated withCenter for Biodiversity ManagementFaculdade de Agronomia e Medicina Veterinária, Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso
    • , Kurniatun HairiahAffiliated withCenter for Biodiversity ManagementFaculty of Agriculture, Brawijaya University
    • , Paul JepsonAffiliated withCenter for Biodiversity ManagementInstitute for Tropical Biology and Conservation, Universiti Malaysia SabahEnvironmental Change Institute, University of OxfordSchool of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford
    • , Agus P. KartonoAffiliated withCenter for Biodiversity ManagementDepartment of Forest Resources, Conservation and Ecotourism, Faculty of Forestry, Bogor Agricultural University
    • , Ibnu MaryantoAffiliated withCenter for Biodiversity ManagementZoology Museum, Research and Development Center for Biology (LIPI)
    • , Germano G. NetoAffiliated withCenter for Biodiversity ManagementDepto Zoológico, Instituto de Biociências, Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso
    • , Meine van NoordwijkAffiliated withCenter for Biodiversity ManagementWorld Agroforestry Centre
    • , Elton A. SilveiraAffiliated withCenter for Biodiversity ManagementSecretaria de Estado de Meio Ambiente do Estado de Mato Grosso
    • , Francis-Xavier SusiloAffiliated withCenter for Biodiversity ManagementDepartment of Plant Protection, Faculty of Agriculture, Lampung University
    • , Stephen A. VostiAffiliated withCenter for Biodiversity ManagementDepartment of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of California, Davis
    • , Paulo C. NunesAffiliated withInstitute for Tropical Biology and Conservation, Universiti Malaysia SabahADERJUR


Multi-taxon surveys were conducted in species-rich, lowland palaeotropical and neotropical forested landscapes in Sumatra, Indonesia and Mato Grosso, Brazil. Gradient-directed transects (gradsects) were sampled across a range of forested land use mosaics, using a uniform protocol to simultaneously record vegetation (vascular plant species, plant functional types (PFTs) and vegetation structure), vertebrates (birds, mammals) and invertebrates (termites), in addition to measuring site and soil properties, including carbon stocks. At both sites similar correlations were detected between major components of structure (mean canopy height, woody basal area and litter depth) and the diversities of plant species and PFTs. A plant species to PFT ratio [spp.:PFTs] was the best overall predictor of animal diversity, especially termite species richness in Sumatra. To a notable extent vegetation structure also correlated with animal diversity. These surrogates demonstrate generic links between habitat structural elements, carbon stocks and biodiversity. They may also offer practical low-cost indicators for rapid assessment in tropical forest landscapes.


Biodiversity indicators Tropical forest Plant functional types Habitat characterization Rapid biodiversity assessment Fauna