Edaphic influences on plant community adaptation in the Chiquibul forest of Belize

W E Dubbin, M G Penn, M E Hodson

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Edaphic variables figure significantly in plant community adaptations in tropical ecosystems but are often difficult to resolve because of the confounding influence of climate. Within the Chiquibul forest of Belize, large areas of Ultisols and Inceptisols occur juxtaposed within a larger zone of similar climate, permitting unambiguous assessment of edaphic contributions to forest composition. Wet chemical analyses, X-ray diffraction and X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy were employed to derive chemical (pH, exchangeable cations, CEC, total and organic C, total trace elements) and physical (texture, mineralogy) properties of four granite-derived Ustults from the Mountain Pine Ridge plateau and four limestone-derived Ustepts from the San Pastor region. The soils of these two regions support two distinct forests, each possessing a species composition reflecting the many contrasting physicochemical properties of the underlying soil. Within the Mountain Pine Ridge forest, species abundance and diversity is constrained by nutrient deficiencies and water-holding limitations imposed by the coarse textured, highly weathered Ultisols. As a consequence, the forest is highly adapted to seasonal drought, frequent fires and the significant input of atmospherically derived nutrients. The nutrient-rich Inceptisols of the San Pastor region, conversely, support an abundant and diverse evergreen forest, dominated by Sabal mauritiiformis, Cryosophila stauracantha and Manilkara spp. Moreover, the deep, fine textured soils in the depressions of the karstic San Pastor landscape collect and retain during the wet season much available water, thereby serving as refugia during particularly long periods of severe drought. To the extent that the soils of the Chiquibul region promote and maintain forest diversity, they also confer redundancy and resilience to these same forests and, to the broader ecosystem, of which they are a central part. (C) 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76-88
Number of pages13
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2006

Bibliographical note

©2005, Elsevier B.V.

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