Plant Ecology

, Volume 192, Issue 2, pp 193–207 | Cite as

Habitat niche partitioning by 16 species of Myristicaceae in Amazonian Ecuador

  • Simon A. Queenborough
  • David F. R. P. Burslem
  • Nancy C. Garwood
  • Renato Valencia


The distribution and spatial pattern of plants in tropical forests have important implications for how species interact with each other and their environments. In this article we use a large-scale permanent census plot to address if the coexistence of 16 co-occurring species of Myristicaceae is aided by topographic and light gradient niche partitioning. We used a second order spatial pattern analysis based on Ripley’s K function to describe species’ distributions and associations among species, and a torus translation procedure to test for associations with three topographically defined habitats. A majority of species displayed spatial aggregation and over half had one or more significant habitat associations. Four species were associated with the ridge habitat, four species with slope habitat, and two with valley habitat. Seven other species showed no habitat association. Within each habitat group, species exhibited a variety of distributions in relation to light availability. However, habitat associations were largely unexplained by differential rates of mortality, growth or recruitment over a 5-year interval. We conclude that although in principle partitioning of the topographic and light environments may double or treble the number of species able to coexist, there is no evidence that partitioning of physical habitats can explain the coexistence of all 16 of these closely related species.


Coexistence Lowland tropical rain forest Species diversity Yasuní 



We thank the Ministerio del Ambiente of Ecuador and F. Koester for permission to work in Yasuní National Park, R. Condit for permission to work within the Yasuní forest dynamics plot itself, and the re-census team of A. Loor, J. Zambrano, G. Grefa, J. Suarez, P. Alvia and M. Zambrano and the staff of Estación Cientifica Yasuní for assistance with fieldwork. We thank Kyle Harms for assisting with habitat association analyses. The first author was funded by a Study Abroad Studentship from The Leverhulme Trust.


  1. Balslev H, Valenica R, Paz y Miño G et al (1998) Species count of vascular plants in one hectare of humid lowland forest in Amazonian Ecuador. In: Dallemeier F, Comisky J (eds) Forest biodiversity in North, Central and South America and the Caribbean, vol 21. Research and monitoring, MAB, UNESCO, Paris, pp 585–594 Google Scholar
  2. Bawa KS (1980) Evolution of dioecy in flowering plants. An Rev Ecol Syst 11:15–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bawa KS, Opler PA (1975) Dioecism in tropical forest trees. Evolution 29:167–179CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Clark DA, Clark DB (1992) Life history diversity of canopy and emergent trees in a neotropical rain forest. Ecol Mon 62:315–344CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Clark DB, Palmer MW, Clark DA (1999) Edaphic factors and the landscape-scale distributions of tropical rain forest trees. Ecology 80:2662–2675CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Condit R, Ashton PS, Baker P et al (2000) Spatial patterns in the distribution of tropical tree species. Science 288:1414–1418PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Connell JH, Tracey JG, Webb LJ (1984) Compensatory recruitment, growth, and mortality as factors maintaining rain forest tree diversity. Ecol Mon 54:141–164CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dalling JW, Hubbell SP (2002) Seed size, growth rate and gap microsite conditions as determinants of recruitment success for pioneer species. J Ecol 90:557–568CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dalling JW, Hubbell SP, Silvera K (1998) Seed dispersal, seedling establishment and gap partitioning among tropical pioneer trees. J Ecol 86:674–689CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Davies SJ, Palmiotto PA, Ashton PS et al (1998) Comparative ecology of 11 sympatric species of Macaranga in Borneo: tree distribution in relation to horizontal and vertical resource heterogeneity. J Ecol 86:662–673CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Daws MI, Pearson TRH, Burslem DFRP et al (2005) Effects of topographic position, leaf litter and seed size on seedling demography in a semi-deciduous tropical forest in Panama. Plant Ecol 179:93–105CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Debski I, Burslem DFRP, Lamb D et al (2000) Ecological processes maintaining differential tree species distributions in an Australian subtropical rain forest: implications for models of species coexistence. J Trop Ecol 16:387–415CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Debski I, Burslem DFRP, Palmiotto PA et al (2002) Habitat preferences of Aporosa in two Malaysian forests: implications for abundance and coexistence. Ecology 83:2005–2018Google Scholar
  14. Denslow JS (1987) Tropical forest gaps and tree species diversity. An Rev Ecol Syst 18:431–451CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Duque A, Sanchez M, Cavelier J et al (2002) Different floristic patterns of woody understorey and canopy plants in Colombian Amazonia. J Trop Ecol 18:499–525CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fisher BL, Howe HF, Wright SJ (1991) Survival and growth of Virola surinamensis yearlings – water augmentation in gap and understorey. Oecologia 86:292–297CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gartlan JS, Newbery DM, Thomas DW et al (1986) The influence of topography and soil-phosphorus on the vegetation of Korup Forest Reserve, Cameroon. Vegetatio 65:131–148CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gentry AH (1982) Patterns of neotropical plant species diversity. Evol Biol 15:1–84Google Scholar
  19. Grubb PJ (1977) The maintenance of species richness in plant communities: the importance of the regeneration niche. Biol Rev 52:107–145Google Scholar
  20. Gunatilleke CVS, Gunatilleke IAUN, Esufali S et al (2006) Species – habitat associations in a Sri Lankan dipterocarp forest. J Trop Ecol 22:371–384CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Haase P (1995) Spatial pattern analysis in ecology based on Ripley's K-function: Introduction and methods of edge correction. J Veg Sci 6:575–582CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Harms KE, Condit R, Hubbell SP et al (2001) Habitat associations of trees and shrubs in a 50-ha neotropical forest plot. J Ecol 89:947–959CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. He F, Legendre P, LaFrankie JV (1996) Spatial pattern of diversity in a tropical rain forest in Malaysia. J Biogeog 23:57–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Howe HF (1983) Annual variation in a neotropical seed-dispersal system. In: Sutton SL, Whitmore TC, Chadwick AC (eds) Tropical rain forests: ecology and management. Blackwell Scientific Publications, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  25. Howe HF (1990) Survival and growth of juvenile Virola surinamensis in Panama: effects of herbivory and canopy closure. J Trop Ecol 6:259–280Google Scholar
  26. Howe HF (1993) Seed dispersal by birds and mammals: implications for seedling demography. In: Bawa KS (ed) Reproductive ecology of tropical forest plants. UNESCO, ParisGoogle Scholar
  27. Hubbell SP (2001) The unified neutral theory of biodiversity and biogeography. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  28. John R, Dalling JW, Harms KE et al (2007) Soil nutrients influence spatial distributions of tropical tree species. PNAS 104:864–869PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. King DA, Wright SJ, Connell JH (2006) The contribution of interspecific variation in maximum tree height to tropical and temperate diversity. J Trop Ecol 22:11–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kitajima K (1994) Relative importance of photosynthetic traits and allocation patterns as correlates of seedling shade tolerance of 13 tropical trees. Oecologia 98:419–428CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Keeling HC, Phillips OL (2007) A calibration method for the crown illumination index for assessing forest light environments. For Ecol Manage 242:431–437CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lieberman M, Lieberman D, Peralta R (1995) Canopy closure and the distribution of tropical forest seedlings. J Trop Ecol 11:161–178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Losos EC, Leigh EG (2004) Tropical forest diversity and dynamism – findings from a large-scale plot network. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  34. Newbery DM, Campbell EJF, Proctor J et al (1996) Primary lowland dipterocarp forest at Danum Valley, Sabah. Malaysia species composition and patterns in the understorey. Vegetatio 122:193–220CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Pacala SW, Canham CD, Saponara J et al (1996) Forest models defined by field measurements: estimation, error analysis and dynamics. Ecol Mon 66:1–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Palmiotto PA, Vogt KA, Ashton PS et al (2004) Linking canopy gaps, topographic position and edaphic variation in a tropical rainforest: implications for species diversity. In: Losos EC, Leigh EG (eds) Tropical forest diversity and dynamism. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  37. Phillips OL, Nuñez Vargas P, Monteagudo AL et al (2003) Habitat association among Amazonian tree species: a landscape-scale approach. J Ecol 91:757–775CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Pitman NCA, Terborgh JW, Silman MR et al (1999) Tree species distributions in an upper Amazonian forest. Ecology 80:2651–2661Google Scholar
  39. Pitman NCA, Terborgh JW, Silman MR et al (2001) Dominance and distribution of tree species in upper Amazonian terre firme forests. Ecology 82:2101–2117Google Scholar
  40. Pyke CR, Condit R, Aguilar S et al (2001) Floristic composition across a climatic gradient in a neotropical lowland forest. J Veg Sci 12:553–566CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Queenborough SA, Burslem DFRP, Garwood NC et al (2007) Determinants of biased sex ratios and inter-sex costs of reproduction in dioecious tropical forest trees. Am J Bot 94:67–78Google Scholar
  42. Queenborough SA, Burslem DFRP, Garwood NC et al (in press) Neighborhood and community interactions determine the spatial pattern of tropical tree seedling survival. EcologyGoogle Scholar
  43. Ripley BD (1976) The second-order analysis of stationary processes. J Appl Prob 13:255–266CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Rodrigues WA (1980) Revisão taxonômica das espécies de Virola Aublet (Myristicaceae) do Brasil. Act Amazon vol(supl):1–27Google Scholar
  45. Roosmalen M, Bardales MDP, Garcia OMDC (1996) Frutos da floresta Amazonica, Parte I: Myristicaceae. Act Amazon 25:209–264Google Scholar
  46. Russo SE, Augspurger CK (2004) Aggregated seed dispersal by spider monkeys limits recruitment to clumped patterns in Virola calophylla. Ecol Lett 7:1058–1067CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Russo SE, Davies SJ, King DA et al (2005) Soil-related performance variation and distributions of tree species in a Bornean rain forest. J Ecol 93:879–889CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Sheil D, Burslem DFRP, Alder D (1995) The interpretation and mininterpretation of mortality rate measures. J Ecol 83:331–333CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Smith AC (1937) The American species of Myristicaceae. Brittonia 2:393–510CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Svenning J-C (1999) Microhabitat specialization in a species-rich palm community in Amazonian Ecuador. J Ecol 87:55–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Svenning J-C (2001) On the role of microenvironmental heterogeneity in the ecology and diversification of neotropical rain-forest palms (Arecaceae). Bot Rev 67:1–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Tuomisto H, Ruokolainen K, Poulsen AD et al (2002) Distribution and diversity of pteridophytes and Melastomataceae along edaphic gradients in Yasuni National Park, Ecuadorian Amazonia. Biotropica 34:516–533Google Scholar
  53. Tuomisto H, Poulsen AD, Ruokolainen K et al (2003) Linking floristic patterns with soil heterogeneity and satellite imagery in Ecuadorian Amazonia. Ecol Appl 13:352–371CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Turner IM (2001) The ecology of trees in the tropical rain forest. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  55. Valencia R, Balslev H, Paz y Miño G (1994) High tree alpha-diversity in Amazonian Ecuador. Biodiv Cons 3:21–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Valencia R, Foster RB, Villa G et al (2004a) Tree species distributions and local habitat variation in the Amazon: large forest plot in eastern Ecuador. J Ecol 92:214–229CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Valencia R, Condit R, Foster RB (2004b) Yasuni Forest Dynamics Plot, Ecuador. In: Losos EC, Leigh EG (eds) Tropical forest diversity and dynamism – findings from a large-scale plot network. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  58. Villela DM, Proctor J (1999) Litterfall mass, chemistry and nutrient retranslocation in a monodominant forest on Maracá Island, Roraima, Brazil. Biotropica 31:198–211CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Webb CO, Peart DR (2000) Habitat associations of trees and seedlings in a Bornean rain forest. J Ecol 88:464–478CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Wright SJ (2002) Plant diversity in tropical forests: a review of mechanisms of species coexistence. Oecologia 130:1–14Google Scholar
  61. Yamada T, Tomita A, Itoh A et al (2006) Habitat associations of Sterculiaceae trees in a Bornean rain forest plot. J Veg Sci 17:559–566CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Simon A. Queenborough
    • 1
    • 2
  • David F. R. P. Burslem
    • 1
  • Nancy C. Garwood
    • 3
  • Renato Valencia
    • 4
  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of AberdeenAberdeenScotland, UK
  2. 2.Department of Animal and Plant ScienceUniversity of SheffieldSheffieldUK
  3. 3.Department of Plant BiologySouthern Illinois UniversityCarbondaleUSA
  4. 4.Department of Biological SciencesPontificia Universidad Católica del EcuadorQuitoEcuador

Personalised recommendations