Local environmental controls of Atlantic Forest tree community assembly on a coastal continental island in southeastern Brazil

ABSTRACT Tropical forests with high species diversity are commonly found in rugged montane areas. We investigated causes of local tropical forest tree community assembly on a continental island with heterogeneous terrain. We recorded tree community (absolute species abundance), topography, soil, litter and location in 40 sampling units on two opposite sides of the island with similar heterogeneous terrain. We used transformation based Redundancy Analyses and variation partitioning to determine the contribution of environment (topography, soil and litter), spatial structure (geographic location and Moran Eigenvector Maps) and the shared effects of these to explain community assembly. The environment made a significant contribution to explain tree community patterns (species composition and abundance) across all models. Conversely, spatial structure showed minor impact. Contribution of strictly environmental effects and spatially structured environmental effects varied when evaluating each site independently as well as when evaluating the combined data. Evidence suggests that local tropical tree community assembly on heterogeneous terrain may be located much closer to the niche end of the hypothetic niche-neutral continuum. Findings indicate additionally that heterogeneity of environmental factors present in dissected mountainous terrain can affect the way tropical community assembly processes are perceived.