Environmental heterogeneity in the tropics is thought to lead to specialization in plants and thereby contribute to the diversity of the tropical flora. We examine this idea with data on the habitat specificity of 35 western Amazonian species from the genera Protium, Crepidospermum, and Tetragastris in the monophyletic tribe Protieae (Burseraceae) mapped on a molecular-based phylogeny. We surveyed three edaphic habitats that occur throughout terra firme Amazonia: white-sand, clay, and terrace soils in eight forests across more than 2000 km in the western Amazon. Twenty-six of the 35 species were found to be associated with only one of three soil types, and no species was associated with all three habitats; this pattern of edaphic specialization was consistent across the entire region. Habitat association mapped onto the phylogenetic tree shows association with terrace soils to be the probable ancestral state in the group, with subsequent speciation events onto clay and white-sand soils. The repeated gain of clay association within the clade likely coincides with the emergence of large areas of clay soils in the Miocene deposited during the Andean uplift. Character optimizations revealed that soil association was not phylogenetically clustered for white-sand and clay specialists, suggesting repeated independent evolution of soil specificity is common within the Protieae. This phylogenetic analysis also showed that multiple cases of putative sister taxa with parapatric distributions differ in their edaphic associations, suggesting that edaphic heterogeneity was an important driver of speciation in the Protieae in the Amazon basin.
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Vol. 59 • No. 7