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Above‐ and belowground interactions drive habitat segregation between two cryptic species of tropical trees

Pizano, Camila, Mangan, Scott A., Herre, Edward Allen, Eom, Ahn-Heum, Dalling, James W.
Ecology 2011 v.92 no.1 pp. 47-56
Trema, browsing, field experimentation, greenhouse experimentation, habitats, herbivores, inoculum, landslides, lowlands, mycorrhizal fungi, nitrogen, phosphorus, pioneer species, soil, soil sterilization, surveys, trees, tropics, vesicular arbuscular mycorrhizae, Panama
In the lowlands of central Panama, the Neotropical pioneer tree Trema micrantha (sensu lato) exists as two cryptic species: “landslide” Trema is restricted to landslides and road embankments, while “gap” Trema occurs mostly in treefall gaps. In this study, we explored the relative contributions of biotic interactions and physical factors to habitat segregation in T. micrantha. Field surveys showed that soils from landslides were significantly richer in available phosphorus and harbored distinct arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal (AMF) communities compared to gap soils. Greenhouse experiments designed to determine the effect of these abiotic and biotic differences showed that: (1) both landslide and gap species performed better in sterilized soil from their own habitat, (2) the availability of phosphorus and nitrogen was limiting in gap and landslide soils, respectively, (3) a standardized AMF inoculum increased performance of both species, but primarily on gap soils, and (4) landslide and gap species performed better when sterilized soils were inoculated with the microbial inoculum from their own habitat. A field experiment confirmed that survival and growth of each species was highest in its corresponding habitat. This experiment also showed that browsing damage significantly decreased survival of gap Trema on landslides. We conclude that belowground interactions with soil microbes and aboveground interactions with herbivores contribute in fundamental ways to processes that may promote and reinforce adaptive speciation.