Reconciling the contribution of environmental and stochastic structuring of tropical forest diversity through the lens of imaging spectroscopy

Both niche and stochastic dispersal processes structure the extraordinary diversity of tropical plants, but determining their relative contributions has proven challenging. We address this question using airborne imaging spectroscopy to estimate canopy β‐diversity for an extensive region of a Bornean rainforest and challenge these data with models incorporating niches and dispersal. We show that remotely sensed and field‐derived estimates of pairwise dissimilarity in community composition are closely matched, proving the applicability of imaging spectroscopy to provide β‐diversity data for entire landscapes of over 1000 ha containing contrasting forest types. Our model reproduces the empirical data well and shows that the ecological processes maintaining tropical forest diversity are scale dependent. Patterns of β‐diversity are shaped by stochastic dispersal processes acting locally whilst environmental processes act over a wider range of scales.

Our work shows that tropical forests exhibit patterns of spatial autocorrelation spanning much farther than what can be detected using even the largest of field inventory plots (c. 50 ha in size) with distinct forest types characterised by distinct β‐diversity patterns. Our analysis confirms that β‐diversity is structured by environmental factors, and that spatial autocorrelation in composition arises, in part, from the spatial organisation of the environment itself. Only after accounting for the effects of environmental filtering could we quantify the contribution of limited dispersal and use entirely neutral models to reconstruct it.

Bongalov (2019) Ecology Letters