Effects of topography on structuring species assemblages in a subtropical forest

Qinggang Wang1,2, Ruwan Punchi-Manage3,4, Zhijun Lu1,*, Scott B. Franklin5, Zhiheng Wang2, Yaoqi Li   2017-07-04 23:26:03

1Key Laboratory of Aquatic Botany and Watershed Ecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Wuhan, Hubei 430074, PR China

2 Department of Ecology and Key Laboratory for Earth Surface Processes of the Ministry of Education, College of Urban and Environmental Sciences, Peking University, Beijing 100871, PR China

3 Department of Ecosystem Modeling, University of Göttingen, Büsgenweg 4, 37077 Göttingen, Germany

4 Department of Ecological Modelling, UFZ Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research-UFZ, PF 500136, 04301 Leipzig, Germany

5 School of Biological Sciences, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, CO 80639-0017, USA

6 National Resource Center for Chinese Materia Medica, China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, Beijing 100700, PR China

7 College of Life Sciences, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, PR China

*Correspondence address. Key Laboratory of Aquatic Botany and Watershed Ecology, Wuhan Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, #1-1 Moshancun, Hongshan District, Wuhan, Hubei 430074, PR China. Tel: +86-27-87510986; Fax: +86-27-87510251; E-mail: luzj@wbgcas.cn

Journal of Plant Ecology

VOLUME 10, NUMBER 3, PAGES 440–449

June 2017

doi: 10.1093/jpe/rtw047

Advance Access publication 13 May 2016

available online at academic.oup.com/jpe



Topography has long been recognized as an important factor in shaping species distributions. Many studies revealed that species may show species–habitat associations. However, few studies investigate how species assemblages are associated with local habitats, and it still remains unclear how the community–habitat associations vary with species abundance class and life stage. In this study, we analyzed the community–habitat associations in a subtropical montane forest.


The fully mapped 25-ha (500 × 500 m) forest plot is located in Badagongshan Nature Reserve in Hunan Province, Central China. It was divided into 625 (20 × 20 m) quadrats. Habitat types were classified by multivariate regression tree analyses that cluster areas with similar species composition according to the topographic characteristics. Indicator species analysis was used to identify the most important species for structuring species assemblages. We also compared the community–habitat associations for two levels of species abundances (i.e. abundant and rare) and three different life stages (i.e. saplings, juveniles and adults), while accounting for sample size effects.


Findings The Badagongshan plot was divided into five distinct habitat types, which explained 34.7% of the variance in tree species composition. Even with sample size taken into account, community–habitat associations for rare species were much weaker than those for abundant species. Also when accounting for sample size, very small differences were found in the variance explained by topography for the three life stages. Indicator species of habitat types were mainly abundant species, and nearly all adult stage indicator species were also indicators in juvenile and sapling stages. Our study manifested that topographical habitat filtering was important in shaping overall local species compositions. However, habitat filtering was not important in shaping rare species’ distributions in this forest. The community–habitat association patterns in this forest were mainly shaped by abundant species. In addition, during the transitions from saplings to juveniles, and from juveniles to adults, the relative importance of habitat filtering was very weak.

Keywords: multivariate regression tree analysis, habitat filtering, rare species, Badagongshan

Received: 9 November 2015, Revised: 10 May 2016, Accepted: 11 May 2016

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