Parallel functional and stoichiometric trait shifts in South American and African forest communities with elevation

Bauters, Marijn; Verbeeck, Hans; Demol, Miro; Bruneel, Stijn; Taveirne, Cys; Van der Heyden, Dries; Cizungu, Landry; Boeckx, Pascal

The Amazon and Congo basins are the two largest continuous blocks of tropical forest with a central role for global biogeochemical cycles and ecology. However, both biomes differ in structure and species richness and composition. Understanding future directions of the response of both biomes to environmental change is paramount. We used one elevational gradient on both continents to investigate functional and stoichiometric trait shifts of tropical forest in South America and Africa. We measured community-weighted functional canopy traits and canopy and topsoil δ15N signatures. We found that the functional forest composition response along both transects was parallel, with a shift towards more nitrogen-conservative species at higher elevations. Moreover, canopy and topsoil δ15N signals decreased with increasing altitude, suggesting a more conservative N cycle at higher elevations. This cross-continental study provides empirical indications that both South American and African tropical forest show a parallel response with altitude, driven by nitrogen availability along the elevational gradients, which in turn induces a shift in the functional forest composition. More standardized research, and more research on other elevational gradients is needed to confirm our observations.

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Bauters, Marijn / Verbeeck, Hans / Demol, Miro / et al: Parallel functional and stoichiometric trait shifts in South American and African forest communities with elevation. 2017. Copernicus Publications.

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