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Environmental correlates for tree occurrences, species distribution and richness on a high-elevation tropical island

Birnbaum P., Ibanez T., Pouteau R., Vandrot H., Hequet V., Blanchard E., Jaffré T.. 2015. AoB Plants, 7 : 15 p..

DOI: 10.1093/aobpla/plv075

High-elevation tropical islands are ideally suited for examining the factors that determine species distribution, given the complex topographies and climatic gradients that create a wide variety of habitats within relatively small areas. New Caledonia, a megadiverse Pacific archipelago, has long focussed the attention of botanists working on the spatial and environmental ranges of specific groups, but few studies have embraced the entire tree flora of the archipelago. In this study we analyse the distribution of 702 native species of rainforest trees of New Caledonia, belonging to 195 genera and 80 families, along elevation and rainfall gradients on ultramafic (UM) and non-ultramafic (non-UM) substrates. We compiled four complementary data sources: (i) herbarium specimens, (ii) plots, (iii) photographs and (iv) observations, totalling 38 936 unique occurrences distributed across the main island. Compiled into a regular 1-min grid (1.852 × 1.852 km), this dataset covered ~22 % of the island. The studied rainforest species exhibited high environmental tolerance; 56 % of them were not affiliated to a substrate type and they exhibited wide elevation (average 891 ± 332 m) and rainfall (average 2.2 ± 0.8 m year-1) ranges. Conversely their spatial distribution was highly aggregated, which suggests dispersal limitation. The observed species richness was driven mainly by the density of occurrences. However, at the highest elevations or rainfalls, and particularly on UM, the observed richness tends to be lower, independently of the sampling effort. The study highlights the imbalance of the dataset in favour of higher values of rainfall and of elevation. Projected onto a map, under-represented areas are a guide as to where future sampling efforts are most required to complete our understanding of rainforest tree species distribution.

Mots-clés : forêt tropicale humide; flore; composition botanique; biodiversité; distribution géographique; altitude; pluviométrie; facteur édaphique; sol minéral; nouvelle-calédonie; france; terrain minier

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