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Recent research has documented the importance of edaphic factors in determining the habitat associations of tree species in many tropical rain forests, but the underlying mechanisms for edaphic associations are unclear. At Sepilok Forest Reserve, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, two main soil types derived from sandstone (ridges) and alluvium (valleys) differ in nutrient and water availability and are characterized by forests differing markedly in species composition, structure, and understory light availability. We use both survey and reciprocal transplants to examine physiological adaptations to differences in light, nutrient, and water availability between these soil types, and test for the importance of resource-use efficiency in determining edaphic specialization. Photosynthetic surveys for congeneric and confamilial pairs (one species per soil type) of edaphic specialists and for generalists common to both soil types show that species specializing on sandstone derived soil had lower stomatal conductance at a given assimilation rate than those occurring on alluvial soil and also had greater instantaneous and integrated water-use efficiencies. Foliar dark respiration rates per unit photosynthesis were higher for sandstone ridge than alluvial lowland specialists. We suggest that these higher respiration rates are likely due to increases in photosynthetic enzyme concentrations to compensate for lower internal CO2 concentrations resulting from increased stomatal closure. This is supported by lower photosynthetic nitrogen-use efficiencies in the sandstone ridge specialists. Generalist species had lower water-use efficiencies than sandstone ridge specialists when growing on the drier, sandy ridgetops, but their nitrogen-use efficiencies did not differ from the species specialized to the more resource-rich alluvial valleys. We varied light environment and soil nutrient availability in a reciprocal transplant experiment involving two specialist species from each soil type. Edaphic specialist species, when grown on the soil type for which they were not specialized, were not capable of acclimatory shifts to achieve similar resource-use efficiencies as species specialized to that soil type. We conclude that divergent water-use strategies are an important mechanism underlying differences in edaphic associations and thus contributing to maintenance of high local tree species diversity in Bornean rain forests.


This article was originally published in Ecology, 86(11): 3063-3077. © 2005 Ecological Society of America