Soil-associated drivers of plant traits and functional composition in Atlantic Forest coastal tree communities

Jehová Lourenço, Erica A. Newman, José A. Ventura, Camilla Rozindo Dias Milanez, Luciana Dias Thomaz, Douglas Tinoco Wandekoken, Brian J. Enquist

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The severe deforestation of Brazil’s Atlantic Forest and the increasing effects of climate change underscore the need to understand how tree species respond to climate and edaphic factors. To identify the most important environmental drivers of coastal Atlantic Forest diversity and functional composition, we studied 42 plots of coastal Atlantic Forest (restinga), which has a high diversity of plant communities and spans strong environmental gradients. We examined how forest physiognomy and functional composition respond to changes in the environment, hydraulic, and soil properties. We tested different hypotheses relating the roles of nutrients and soil water availability in driving shifts in tropical forest diversity and functioning. We collected wood samples and leaves from ˜85% of the plant species identified in the forest inventory and estimated the community-weighted tree height, aboveground biomass, basal area of individual plants, specific leaf area, wood density, and the total tree biomass per community by the sum of all trees’ aboveground biomass per plot. We measured water table depth and 24 physicochemical soil parameters. Hypotheses relating to these factors were formalized via both generalized additive models and piecewise structural equation models and null models of community assembly. Increasing drought, as reflected by increasing water table depth, coarse sand, and soil concentration of aluminum (>6 cmol/kg), was found to be a primary driver of shifts in all measured functional traits. Water table depth was found to be the main environmental driver of restinga species diversity, but shifts in species richness were largely decoupled from functional richness and functional dispersion. Our results suggest that decreases in soil water availability are a central driver of local phenotype–environment matching and that increasing water limitation increases the role of environmental filtering on multiple traits. Our results show that drought leads to a strong convergence (standardized effect size < −1.95) in forest function and leads to shifts to smaller statured forest in particular. These findings reveal important differences in the drivers of forest structure and functioning, suggesting that changes in local spatial variation in soil and moisture variables will be a central issue in restinga management and conservation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere03629
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • Atlantic Forest
  • Brazil
  • aboveground biomass
  • aluminum
  • biodiversity
  • functional traits
  • physiognomy
  • restinga
  • salinity
  • soil gradients
  • water availability
  • water table depth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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