Question: Is soil hydrology an important niche-based driver of biodiversity in tropical forests? More specifically, we asked whether seasonal dynamics in soil water regime contributed to vegetation partitioning into distinct forest types.
Location: Tropical rain forest in northwestern Mato Grosso, Brazil.
Methods: We investigated the distribution of trees and lianas ≥ 1 cm DBH in ten transects that crossed distinct hydrological transitions. Soil water content and depth to water table were measured regularly over a 13-month period.
Results: A detrended correspondence analysis (DCA) of 20 dominant species and structural attributes in 10 × 10 m subplots segregated three major forest types: (1) high-statured upland forest with intermediate stem density, (2) medium-statured forest dominated by palms, and (3) low-statured campinarana forest with high stem density. During the rainy season and transition into the dry season, distinct characteristics of the soil water regime (i.e. hydro-indicators) were closely associated with each vegetation community. Stand structural attributes and hydro-indicators were statistically different among forest types.
Conclusions: Some upland species appeared intolerant of anaerobic conditions as they were not present in palm and campinarana sites, which experienced prolonged periods of saturation at the soil surface. A shallow impermeable layer restricted rooting depth in the campinarana community, which could heighten drought stress during the dry season. The only vegetation able to persist in campinarana sites were short-statured trees that appear to be well-adapted to the dual extremes of inundation and drought.
Nomenclature: Ribeiro et al. (1999).