Detailed information about interspecific spatial associations among tropical tree species is scarce, and hence the ecological importance of those associations may have been underestimated. However, they can play a role in community assembly and species diversity maintenance. This study investigated the spatial dependence between pairs of species. First, the spatial associations (spatial attraction and spatial repulsion) that arose between species were examined. Second, different sizes of trees were considered in order to evaluate whether the spatial relationships between species are constant or vary during the lifetime of individuals. Third, the consistency of those spatial associations with the species-habitat associations found in previous studies was assessed. Two different tropical ecosystems were investigated: a montane cloud forest and a lowland moist forest. The results showed that spatial associations among species exist, and these vary among life stages and species. The rarity of negative spatial interactions suggested that exclusive competition was not common in the studied forests. On the other hand, positive interactions were common, and the results of this study strongly suggested that habitat associations were not the only cause of spatial attraction among species. If this is true, habitat associations and density dependence are not the only mechanisms that explain species distribution and diversity; other ecological interactions, such as facilitation among species, may also play a role. These spatial associations could be important in the assembly of tropical tree communities and forest succession, and should be taken into account in future studies.
Bibliographical noteData Availability: All relevant data are within the paper and its Supporting Information files.
Funding: This research was funded through a PhD grant from the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, and support of a FP7-PEOPLE-2013-IEF Marie-Curie Action.