Drought sensitivity shapes species distribution patterns in tropical forests

May 14, 2007

Looking at a rainforest it’s easy to see that there are hundreds of different tropical plant species that inhabit the forest. Although the patterns of plant distributions in tropical forests have been widely studied, the reasonings behind these patterns are not as well known. This study, published in Nature, explores these patterns.

A contingent of researchers from around the world, including Panama, Germany, USA and Canada, have uncovered that tropical plant species distribution patterns are linked to the plant’s drought sensitivity.

For this study, the researchers conducted irrigation experiments on 48 native tree and shrub species to determine drought sensitivity between dry and irrigated conditions, which confirmed that species vary widely in drought sensitivity. The researchers also assessed regional plant species distribution across two large plots on opposite sides of the Isthmus of Panama. Through this assessment it was found that the plant’s densities at the dry Pacific side compared to the wet Atlantic side correlated negatively with drought sensitivity.

"Our results suggest that niche differentiation with respect to soil water availability is a direct determinant of the distributions of tropical plant species," said Dr. Mel Tyree, University of Alberta researcher.

Although tropical plant species’ reactions to environmental factors, namely light and nutrients, have been experimentally assessed in numerous studies, only a few have quantitatively linked this data to distribution patterns. These studies were restricted to a small number of species, precluding analysis of the importance of environmental factors across the community. Thus, these findings represent the most thorough study so far linking tropical plant species distribution patterns with species’ reactions to an environmental factor at the community level

"The results presented here emphasize the sensitivity of tropical forests to water availability," said Dr. Tyree. "Therefore, changes in soil moisture availability caused by global climate change and forest fragmentation are likely to alter tropical species distribution, community composition and diversity."

Source: University of Alberta

Explore further: Tropical trees use unique method to resist drought

Related Stories

Hunting is changing forests, but not as expected

February 15, 2018

When it comes to spreading their seeds, many trees in the rainforest rely on animals, clinging to their fur or hitching a ride within their digestive tract. As the seeds are spread around, the plants' prospects for survival ...

Mapping the first family tree for tropical forests

February 5, 2018

More than 100 researchers have collaborated to classify the world's tropical forests according to their evolutionary history, a process that will help researchers predict the resilience or susceptibility of different forests ...

Recommended for you

Archaeologists find ancient necropolis in Egypt

February 24, 2018

Egypt's Antiquities Ministry announced on Saturday the discovery of an ancient necropolis near the Nile Valley city of Minya, south of Cairo, the latest discovery in an area known to house ancient catacombs from the Pharaonic ...

AI and 5G in focus at top mobile fair

February 24, 2018

Phone makers will seek to entice new buyers with better cameras and bigger screens at the world's biggest mobile fair starting Monday in Spain after a year of flat smartphone sales.

Walking crystals may lead to new field of crystal robotics

February 23, 2018

Researchers have demonstrated that tiny micrometer-sized crystals—just barely visible to the human eye—can "walk" inchworm-style across the slide of a microscope. Other crystals are capable of different modes of locomotion ...

Researchers turn light upside down

February 23, 2018

Researchers from CIC nanoGUNE (San Sebastian, Spain) and collaborators have reported in Science the development of a so-called hyperbolic metasurface on which light propagates with completely reshaped wafefronts. This scientific ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.