Spatial patterns of tropical trees and shrubs are important to understanding their interaction and the resultant structure of tropical rainforests. To assess this issue, we took advantage of previously collected data, on Neotropical tree and shrub stem identified to species and mapped for spatial coordinates in a 50ha plot, with a frequency of every five years and over a 20 year period. These stems data were first placed into four groups, regardless of species, depending on their location in the vertical strata of the rainforest (shrubs, understory trees, mid-sized trees, tall trees) and then used to generate aggregation patterns for each sampling year. We found shrubs and understory trees clumped at small spatial scales of a few meters for several of the years sampled. Alternatively, mid-sized trees and tall trees did not clump, nor did they show uniform (regular) patterns, during any sampling period. In general (1) groups found higher in the canopy did not show aggregation on the ground and (2) the spatial patterns of all four groups showed similarity among different sampling years, thereby supporting a “shifting mosaic” view of plant communities over large areas. Spatial analysis, such as this one, are critical to understanding and predicting tree spaces, tree-tree replacements and the Neotropical forest patterns, such as biodiversity and those needed for sustainability efforts, they produce.
Keywords: BCI, rainforest, Smithsonian, O-ring spatial statistics