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Landscape biogeochemistry reflected in shifting distributions of chemical traits in the Amazon forest canopy

Nature Geoscience volume 8, pages 567573 (2015) | Download Citation

Abstract

Tropical forest functional diversity, which is a measure of the diversity of organismal interactions with the environment, is poorly understood despite its importance for linking evolutionary biology to ecosystem biogeochemistry. Functional diversity is reflected in functional traits such as the concentrations of different compounds in leaves or the density of leaf mass, which are related to plant activities such as plant defence, nutrient cycling, or growth. In the Amazonian lowlands, river movement and microtopography control nutrient mobility, which may influence functional trait distributions. Here we use airborne laser-guided imaging spectroscopy to develop maps of 16 forest canopy traits, throughout four large landscapes that harbour three common forest community types on the Madre de Dios and Tambopata rivers in southwestern Amazonia. Our maps, which are based on quantitative chemometric analysis of forest canopies with visible-to-near infrared (400–2,500 nm) spectroscopy, reveal substantial variation in canopy traits and their distributions within and among forested landscapes. Forest canopy trait distributions are arranged in a nested pattern, with location along rivers controlling trait variation between different landscapes, and microtopography controlling trait variation within landscapes. We suggest that processes of nutrient deposition and depletion drive increasing phosphorus limitation, and a corresponding increase in plant defence, in an eastward direction from the base of the Andes into the Amazon Basin.

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Acknowledgements

This study was funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The Carnegie Airborne Observatory is made possible by the Avatar Alliance Foundation, Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, W. M. Keck Foundation, M. A. N. Baker and G. L. Baker Jr, and W. R. Hearst III.

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Affiliations

  1. Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution for Science, 260 Panama Street Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • Gregory P. Asner
    • , Christopher B. Anderson
    • , Roberta E. Martin
    • , Raul Tupayachi
    • , David E. Knapp
    •  & Felipe Sinca

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Contributions

G.P.A. designed and secured funding for the study, and led data collection and analysis steps. G.P.A., C.B.A., R.E.M., D.E.K., R.T. and F.S. carried out data collection and analyses. G.P.A. and R.E.M. wrote the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gregory P. Asner.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2443

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