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Effects of topography on rainforest tree community structure and diversity in American Samoa, and implications for frugivore and nectarivore populations

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Aim We investigated the spatial variation of rainforest tree community structure and composition to determine if forest structure and diversity varied as a function of topography; and in turn if this could influence patterns of habitat use by native forest birds and pteropodid bats.

Location The study was undertaken on the island of Tutuila, American Samoa, located in the South Pacific Ocean.

Methods All trees ≥10 cm diameter were censused in sixty 200 m2 plots in ridge, slope and valley forest across the island of Tutuila.

ResultsForest structure varied significantly across topographical space. Ridge forest was shortest and had the highest stem densities, and valley forest was tallest with the fewest stems per unit area. Species richness was highest on ridges, and slope and valley forest were more similar in composition with each other than they were with ridge forest. Of the fifty-two tree species encountered in the plots, nine showed a statistical affiliation to one of the three topographical positions.

Main conclusionsWe explain patterns of forest structure and diversity in the context of chronic and catastrophic disturbances. Higher stem densities in ridge forest suggested a higher degree of disturbance on ridges, and this was supported by the fact that the height/diameter ratio of the forest was lowest on ridges, which indicated wind-cropping. We hypothesize the potential effects of topographical variation and known phenological patterns on wildlife abundances. We predict that flowering episodes of ridge-affiliated, bird-visited species (particularly Syzygium inophylloides (A. Gray) C. Muell.; Myrtaceae) will concentrate honeyeater densities on ridges, and that fruiting of the tree Canarium vitiense A. Gray (Burseraceae) could localize populations of the Pacific pigeon (Ducula pacifica). Overall (i.e. net) bat foraging patterns are unlikely to be affected by either flowering or fruiting events. Most of the tree species on Tutuila are generalist in their demographic patterns, and the island is depauperate in wildlife fauna; the evolutionary and conservation implications are discussed. We conclude with the argument that conservation of vertebrate species is essential to maintain the current generalist demographic patterns of Samoan trees.

Keywords: Demography; Polynesia; dispersal; islands; phenology; plant–animal interactions

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, Government of American Samoa, PO Box 3730, Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799, 10724 228th Street SW, Edmonds, WA 98020, U.S.A. and, 324 Whitebirch Pl., Wenatchee, WA 98801, U.S.A.

Publication date: July 1, 1999


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