Lianas and soil nutrients predict fine-scale distribution of above-ground biomass in a tropical moist forest

1. Prediction of carbon dynamics in response to global climate change requires an understanding of the processes that govern the distribution of carbon stocks. Above‐ground biomass (AGB) in tropical forests is regulated by variation in soil fertility, climate, species composition and topography at regional scales, but the drivers of fine‐scale variation in tropical forest AGB are poorly understood. The factors that control the growth and mortality of individual trees may be obscured by the low resolution of studies at regional scales.

2. In this paper, we evaluated the effects of soil nutrients, topography and liana abundance on the fine‐scale spatial distribution of AGB and density of trees for a lowland tropical moist forest in Panama using additive regression models.

3. Areas with larger values of AGB were negatively associated with the presence of lianas, which may reflect competition with lianas and/or the association of lianas with disturbed or open‐canopy patches within forests. AGB was positively associated with soils possessing higher pH and K concentrations, reflecting the importance of below‐ground resource availability on AGB independently of stem density.

4. Synthesis. Our results shed new light on the factors that influence fine‐scale tree AGB and carbon stocks in tropical forests: liana abundance is the strongest predictor, having a negative impact on tree AGB. The availability of soil nutrients was also revealed as an important driver of fine‐scale spatial variation in tree AGB.

Alicia Ledo, Janine B. Illian, Stefan A. Schnitzer, S. Joseph Wright, James W. Dalling, David F. R. P. Burslem
Journal of Ecology