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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Nov 27, 2007; 104(48): 19029–19033.
Published online Nov 16, 2007. doi:  10.1073/pnas.0705621104
PMCID: PMC2141902
Ecology

How individual species structure diversity in tropical forests

Abstract

A persistent challenge in ecology is to explain the high diversity of tree species in tropical forests. Although the role of species characteristics in maintaining tree diversity in tropical forests has been the subject of theory and debate for decades, spatial patterns in local diversity have not been analyzed from the viewpoint of individual species. To measure scale-dependent local diversity structures around individual species, we propose individual species–area relationships (ISAR), a spatial statistic that marries common species–area relationships with Ripley's K to measure the expected α diversity in circular neighborhoods with variable radius around an arbitrary individual of a target species. We use ISAR to investigate if and at which spatial scales individual species increase in tropical forests' local diversity (accumulators), decrease local diversity (repellers), or behave neutrally. Our analyses of data from Barro Colorado Island (Panama) and Sinharaja (Sri Lanka) reveal that individual species leave identifiable signatures on spatial diversity, but only on small spatial scales. Most species showed neutral behavior outside neighborhoods of 20 m. At short scales (<20 m), we observed, depending on the forest type, two strongly different roles of species: diversity repellers dominated at Barro Colorado Island and accumulators at Sinharaja. Nevertheless, we find that the two tropical forests lacked any key species structuring species diversity at larger scales, suggesting that “balanced” species–species interactions may be a characteristic of these species-rich forests. We anticipate our analysis method will be a starting point for more powerful investigations of spatial structures in diversity to promote a better understanding of biodiversity in tropical forests.

Keywords: biodiversity, spatial patterns, spatial statistic, species–area relationship

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