A large-scale study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and eight other institutions sheds some light on the issue. It indicates that nutrients in the soil can strongly influence the distribution of trees in tropical forests.
The finding, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, challenges the theory that at local scales tree distributions in a forest simply reflect patterns of seed dispersal, said James W. Dalling, a U. of I. professor of plant biology and a principal researcher on the study.
The study evaluated three sites: two lowland forests, in central Panama and eastern Ecuador, and a mountain forest in southern Colombia. The researchers plotted every tree and mapped the distribution of soil nutrients on a total of 100 hectares (247 acres) at the sites. The study included 1,400 tree species and more than 500,000 trees.
The researchers compared distribution maps of 10 essential plant nutrients in the soils to species maps of all trees more than 1 centimeter in diameter. Each of the sites was very different, but at each the researchers found evidence that soil composition significantly influenced where certain tree species grew: The spatial distributions of 36 to 51 percent of the tree species showed strong associations with soil nutrient distributions.Prior to the study, the researchers had expected to see some influence of soil nutrients on forest composition, but the results were more pronounced than anticipated.
“Differences in nutrient requirements among trees may help explain how so many species can coexist.”
Although plants in temperate forests influence the soils around them (through the uptake of nutrients, decomposition of leaf litter on the forest floor and through root exudates), in tropical forests local neighborhoods contain so many species that the ability of individual species to influence soil properties is likely to be small.
“We interpret these plant-soil associations as directional responses of plants to variation in soil properties,” the researchers wrote.
The team also found that certain soil nutrients that previously had not been considered important to plant growth in tropical forests had measurable effects on species distributions.
At the site in Ecuador, calcium and magnesium had the strongest effects. In the Panamanian forest, boron and potassium were the most influential nutrients assayed. And in the Colombian mountain forest, potassium, phosphorous, iron and nitrogen, in that order, showed the strongest effects on the distribution of trees.
“There are all kinds of minerals out there that plants seem to be responding to that we didn’t think were likely to be important,” Dalling said. Further studies are needed, he said, to evaluate these influences in more detail.
The other principal investigators on the study are Robert John, a post-doctoral researcher in the U. of I. department of plant biology; Kyle E. Harms, Louisiana State University; Joseph B. Yavitt, Cornell University; and Robert F. Stallard of the U.S. Geological Survey.
Researchers on the study also are affiliated with Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama; the University of Georgia; Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador; Instituto Alexander von Humboldt, Colombia; and the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago.
Editor’s note: To reach James W. Dalling in Panama, call 011-507-314-9311; e-mail: email@example.com.
Diana Yates | EurekAlert!
Dune ecosystem modelling
26.06.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
Understanding animal social networks can aid wildlife conservation
23.06.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
26.06.2017 | Life Sciences
26.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
26.06.2017 | Information Technology