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Soil characteristics influence species composition and forest structure differentially among tree size classes in a Bornean heath forest

Sellan, G and Thompson, J and Majalap, N and Brearley, FQ (2019) Soil characteristics influence species composition and forest structure differentially among tree size classes in a Bornean heath forest. Plant and Soil, 438 (1-2). pp. 173-185. ISSN 0032-079X

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Abstract

© 2019, Springer Nature Switzerland AG. Background and aims: Whilst several studies have shown that edaphic variability influences species composition in nutrient-poor tropical forests, the determinants of local species distributions and, in particular, how these change from younger to mature individuals in such forests are still under debate, and have been poorly explored in tropical heath forests that are among the least fertile tropical forest ecosystems. Methods: We investigated the influence of soil fertility and topography on a Bornean heath forest species composition, α-, β-diversity and tree size structure among size classes by recording all trees ≥1 cm DBH in 16 forest plots totalling 0.36 ha. Results: Tree species distributions generally followed gradients in available Al and soil depth; α- and β-diversity were linked to soil depth, and to some extent also to pH and the H:Al ratio. In contrast, forest structural attributes (basal area and stem density) were negatively correlated with both available and total P and a wider suite of soil nutrients, although trees ≥10 cm DBH were positively correlated with total P. Conclusion: Our study shows that heath forest species distribution, richness and structure is related to both edaphic and topographic characteristics and that soil acidity might have a strong influence in shaping these forests’ features. Among size classes, small trees are less influenced by soil and topography, whereas the sensitivity to these variables increases with tree size. We thus highlight that multiple edaphic factors influence different aspects of tropical forest structure, including different tree life stages, and species composition.

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