Determinants of Tree Assemblage Composition at the Mesoscale within a Subtropical Eucalypt Forest
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variety of environmental processes, including topography, edaphic and disturbance factors can influence vegetation composition. The relative influence of these patterns has been known to vary with scale, however, few studies have focused on environmental drivers of composition at the mesoscale. This study examined the relative importance of topography, catchment flow and soil in influencing tree assemblages in Karawatha Forest Park; a South-East Queensland subtropical eucalypt forest embedded in an urban matrix that is part of the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network South-East Queensland Peri-urban SuperSite. Thirty-three LTER plots were surveyed at the mesoscale (909 ha), where all woody stems $1.3 m high rooted within plots were sampled. Vegetation was divided into three cohorts: small ($1-10 cm DBH), intermediate ($10-30 cm DBH), and large ($30 cm DBH). Plot slope, aspect, elevation, catchment area and location and soil chemistry and structure were also measured. Ordinations and smooth surface modelling were used to determine drivers of vegetation assemblage in each cohort. Vegetation composition was highly variable among plots at the mesoscale (plots systematically placed at 500 m intervals). Elevation was strongly related to woody vegetation composition across all cohorts (R2: 0.69-0.75). Other topographic variables that explained a substantial amount of variation in composition were catchment area (R2: 0.43-0.45) and slope (R2: 0.23-0.61). Soil chemistry (R2: 0.09-0.75) was also associated with woody vegetation composition. While species composition differed substantially between cohorts, the environmental variables explaining composition did not. These results demonstrate the overriding importance of elevation and other topographic features in discriminating tree assemblage patterns irrespective of tree size. The importance of soil characteristics to tree assemblages was also influenced by topography, where ridge top sites were typically drier and had lower soil nutrient levels than riparian areas.
© 2014 Hero et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Conservation and Biodiversity