Reconciling the contribution of environmental and stochastic structuring of tropical forest diversity through the lens of imaging spectroscopy

Boris Bongalov (Corresponding Author), David F. R. P. Burslem, Tommaso Jucker, Samuel E. D. Thompson, James Rosindell, Tom Swinfield, Reuben Nilus, Daniel Clewley, Oliver L. Phillips, David A. Coomes (Corresponding Author)

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11 Citations (Scopus)
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Both niche and stochastic dispersal processes structure the extraordinary diversity of tropical plants, but determining their relative contributions has proven challenging. We address this question by using airborne imaging spectroscopy to estimate canopy β-diversity for an extensive region of a Bornean rainforest and challenge these data with models incorporating niches and dispersal. We show that remotely-sensed and field-derived estimates of pairwise dissimilarity in community composition are closely matched, proving the applicability of imaging spectroscopy to provide β-diversity data for entire landscapes of over 1000 ha containing contrasting forest types. Our model reproduces the empirical data well and shows that the ecological processes maintaining tropical forest diversity are scale dependent. Patterns of β-diversity are shaped by stochastic dispersal processes acting locally whilst environmental processes act over a wider range of scales.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1608-1619
Number of pages12
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number10
Early online date26 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019

Bibliographical note

Data Availability Statement:: Airborne data are available via the CEDA archive (project code MA14/21); plot data is archived on forestplots (Lopez‐Gonzalez et al., 2011) (codes SEP‐03, 04, 05, 07, 08, 09, 10, 11, 12) and from the Figshare Repository:

We are grateful to the Sabah Forestry Department and the Sabah Biodiversity Centre for allowing us to conduct our research in Sepilok as well as to the South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership for the logistical support. This work was supported by a grant through the Human Modified Tropical Forests programme of NERC (NE/K016377/1) as well as a Cambridge NERC-DTP studentship. Resurvey of the field plots was supported by an ERC Advanced Grant (291585, T-FORCES) awarded to O.L.P. S.E.D.T was supported by the Joint Imperial-NUS PhD Scholarship. J.R. was supported by fellowships from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) (NE/I021179, NE/L011611/1). We thank members of the NERC Airborne Research Facility and Data Analysis Node for the collection and processing of the data (project code MA14/21). Data processing was aided by the NERCs JASMIN computing cluster and the Imperial College London computing facilities. We would also like to thank Felix May for his advice during the early stages of this study. The quality of this manuscript was greatly improved by the comments of Gabriel Arellano and two other anonymous Reviewers.


  • neutral theory
  • tropical forest
  • niche
  • hyperspectral
  • LiDAR
  • beta diversity
  • dispersal
  • Beta diversity


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