Dominant tree species drive beta diversity patterns in western Amazonia

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College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science


The forests of western Amazonia are among the most diverse tree communities on Earth, yet this exceptional diversity is distributed highly unevenly within and among communities. In particular, a small number of dominant species account for the majority of individuals, whereas the large majority of species are locally and regionally extremely scarce. By definition, dominant species contribute little to local species richness (alpha diversity), yet the importance of dominant species in structuring patterns of spatial floristic turnover (beta diversity) has not been investigated. Here, using a network of 207 forest inventory plots, we explore the role of dominant species in determining regional patterns of beta diversity (community-level floristic turnover and distance-decay relationships) across a range of habitat types in northern lowland Peru. Of the 2,031 recorded species in our data set, only 99 of them accounted for 50% of individuals. Using these 99 species, it was possible to reconstruct the overall features of regional beta diversity patterns, including the location and dispersion of habitat types in multivariate space, and distance-decay relationships. In fact, our analysis demonstrated that regional patterns of beta diversity were better maintained by the 99 dominant species than by the 1,932 others, whether quantified using species-abundance data or species presence–absence data. Our results reveal that dominant species are normally common only in a single forest type. Therefore, dominant species play a key role in structuring western Amazonian tree communities, which in turn has important implications, both practically for designing effective protected areas, and more generally for understanding the determinants of beta diversity patterns.

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