Habitat associations of trees and shrubs in a 50-ha neotropical forest plot

Kyle E. Harms, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Richard Condit, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Stephen P. Hubbell, University of Georgia
Robin B. Foster, Field Museum of Natural History


1. Tests of habitat association among species of tropical trees and shrubs often assume that individual stems can be treated as independent sample units, even though limited dispersal conflicts with this assumption by causing new recruits to occur near maternal parents and siblings. 2. We developed methods for assessing patterns of association between mapped plants and mapped habitat types that explicitly incorporate spatial structure, thereby eliminating the need to assume independence among stems. 3. We used these methods to determine habitat-association patterns for 171 species of trees and shrubs within the permanent 50-ha Forest Dynamics Project plot on Barro Colorado Island, Panama. 4. Many fewer significant habitat associations result from the new methods than from traditional, but inappropriate, chi-square tests. The low-lying plateau, the most extensive habitat on the 50-ha plot, had nine species positively associated with it and 19 species negatively associated, leaving 143 species whose distributions were not biased with respect to this habitat. A small swamp in the plot was the most distinct habitat, with 32 species positively and 20 species negatively associated, leaving more than two-thirds of the species neither positively nor negatively associated. 5. To the extent that habitat association reflects habitat specialization, our results suggest that local habitat specialization plays a limited role in the maintenance of species diversity in this forest.