Soil physical conditions limit palm and tree basal area in Amazonian forests

Thaise Emilio*, Carlos A. Quesada, Flávia R.C. Costa, William E. Magnusson, Juliana Schietti, Ted R. Feldpausch, Roel J.W. Brienen, Timothy R. Baker, Jerome Chave, Estebán Álvarez, Alejandro Araújo, Olaf Bánki, Carolina V. Castilho, Eurídice N. Honorio C, Timothy J. Killeen, Yadvinder Malhi, Erick M. Oblitas Mendoza, Abel Monteagudo, David Neill, Germaine Alexander ParadaAntonio Peña-Cruz, Hirma Ramirez-Angulo, Michael Schwarz, Marcos Silveira, Hans ter Steege, John W. Terborgh, Raquel Thomas, Armando Torres-Lezama, Emilio Vilanova, Oliver L. Phillips

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Trees and arborescent palms adopt different rooting strategies and responses to physical limitations imposed by soil structure, depth and anoxia. However, the implications of these differences for understanding variation in the relative abundance of these groups have not been explored. Aims: We analysed the relationship between soil physical constraints and tree and palm basal area to understand how the physical properties of soil are directly or indirectly related to the structure and physiognomy of lowland Amazonian forests. Methods: We analysed inventory data from 74 forest plots across Amazonia, from the RAINFOR and PPBio networks for which basal area, stand turnover rates and soil data were available. We related patterns of basal area to environmental variables in ordinary least squares and quantile regression models. Results: Soil physical properties predicted the upper limit for basal area of both trees and palms. This relationship was direct for palms but mediated by forest turnover rates for trees. Soil physical constraints alone explained up to 24% of palm basal area and, together with rainfall, up to 18% of tree basal area. Tree basal area was greatest in forests with lower turnover rates on well-structured soils, while palm basal area was high in weakly structured soils. Conclusions: Our results show that palms and trees are associated with different soil physical conditions. We suggest that adaptations of these life-forms drive their responses to soil structure, and thus shape the overall forest physiognomy of Amazonian forest vegetation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-229
Number of pages15
JournalPlant Ecology and Diversity
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • ecological limiting factors
  • life-forms
  • palm-dominated forests
  • quantile regression
  • soil structure
  • tropical forest
  • vegetation types


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