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Litter as a filter of emergence for herbaceous seedlings and sporophytes in central Amazonia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 August 2012

Flávio Rogério de Oliveira Rodrigues*
Graduate Program in Ecology, Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia, Avenida Efigênio Salles, 2239, Adrianópolis, CEP 69011-970, Manaus, AM, Brazil
Flávia Regina Capellotto Costa
Coordenação de Pesquisas em Biodiversidade, Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia, Avenida Efigênio Salles, 2239, Adrianópolis, CEP 69011-970, Manaus, AM, Brazil
1Corresponding author. Email:


We conducted a study in 30 plots distributed uniformly in an area of 25 km2 at Ducke Reserve, Manaus, to test the hypothesis that understorey herb richness and abundance are mediated by litter, manipulating experimentally the amount of litter in the field. Over 10 mo, we followed the emergence of herbaceous seedlings and sporophytes in control, litter-addition and litter-exclusion treatments, covering an area of 1.2 m2 per plot in each treatment. We also assessed the relationship between topography and litter depth and frequency of bare-soil patches; and the influence of density of reproductive individuals on the emergence of herbs. Litter depth decreased, and the frequency of bare-soil patches increased with terrain slope in the wet season, but were not related with the soil clay content. Neither was related to the topography in the dry season. Emergence of pteridophytes was four times higher in the litter-exclusion treatment (3.7 ± 1.1 individuals m−2) than in the litter-addition treatment (0.9 ± 0.28 indiv. m−2) and increased with soil clay content. Seedlings from monocot herbs emerged twice more frequently in the litter exclusion (0.71 ± 0.25 indiv. m−2) than in the litter-addition treatment (0.33 ± 0.11 indiv. m−2), and also more in sites with high density of fruiting plants. The results are consistent with the hypothesis that regeneration of herbs with very small propagules is strongly affected by the physical barrier imposed by litter. Given that litter is shallower on slopes during the wet season, this creates a pattern of higher density and richness of pteridophytes in these areas. Monocot herbs, although also limited by litter, were more highly limited by availability of propagules, and their distribution patterns are at least in part explained by dispersal limitation. We conclude that litter is an important causal factor behind the herb distribution patterns along topographical gradients.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

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