Plant and Soil

, Volume 338, Issue 1–2, pp 301–309 | Cite as

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

  • Yong TangEmail author
  • Xiaofei Yang
  • Min Cao
  • Carol C. Baskin
  • Jerry M. Baskin
Regular Article


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.


Buttress tree Soil heterogeneity Soil moisture Soil nutrient Xishuangbanna 



We thank the Xishuangbanna Station for Tropical Rainforest Ecosystem Studies, the Chinese Academy of Science for providing research facilities and rainfall data; Pierre Legendre for his help with data analysis and John Kanowski, Douglas Schaefer and two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by a Knowledge Innovation Program of the Chinese Academy of Science (KZCX2-YW-430), a grant from National Natural Science Foundation of China (31070411) and a National Science & Technology Pillar Program from the Ministry of Environmental Protection of P.R. China (2008BAC39B02).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yong Tang
    • 1
    Email author
  • Xiaofei Yang
    • 1
  • Min Cao
    • 1
  • Carol C. Baskin
    • 2
  • Jerry M. Baskin
    • 3
  1. 1.Key Lab of Tropical Forest Ecology, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical GardenThe Chinese Academy of SciencesMenglaPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Department of Plant and Soil SciencesUniversity of KentuckyLexingtonUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiologyUniversity of KentuckyLexingtonUSA

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