Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version



Journal of Ecology 93 (2005), pp. 879-889; doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2745.2005.01030.x


Copyright 2005 British Ecological Society; published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Used by permission.


1. Spatial distributions of tropical trees often correlate with environmental variation, suggesting that ecological sorting caused by niche differentiation may be important for maintaining species diversity.

2. Four soil types have been identified in a 52-ha forest dynamics plot in Bornean mixed dipterocarp forest (ranked by increasing fertility and moisture: sandy loam, loam, fine loam, and clay). The distributions of 73% of tree species in the plot are significantly aggregated on one of these soil types. We tested the hypothesis that variation in performance (growth and mortality) underlies these edaphically biased species distributions.

3. Annual growth and mortality rates over 5 years were estimated for trees ≥ 1 cm in diameter and compared among soil types, life histories and species-aggregation patterns.

4. Overall, growth and mortality rates were lowest on the poorest soil (sandy loam). Growth rates on each soil type correlated with soil fertility for pioneers, while mortality rates correlated with soil fertility for both pioneers and late-successional species.

5. There was little evidence that soil specialists had a home-soil performance advantage. Soil-specific ranks of growth and mortality rates of each species-aggregation group largely mirrored the ranks of their rates across the plot and did not shift substantially among soil types. On every soil, species aggregated on sandy loam or clay ranked last or next-to-last, and species aggregated on loam ranked the highest.

6. Ecological sorting of species among soils was strong. With increasing diameter, species were lost from the soils on which they were not aggregated more frequently than would be expected based on random mortality. The underlying mechanisms of ecological sorting may involve low mortality rates as a requirement for species to achieve high abundance on the poorest soil, whereas for the richer soils, having high growth rates appears relatively more important for achieving high abundance.

7. Thus, species’ demographic responses to resource variation among soil types, especially related to the poorest soil, affects tree species distribution patterns in this forest and thereby influences the structure of tropical forest communities.