Journal of Tropical Ecology

Tree species distribution and community structure of central Amazonian várzea forests by remote-sensing techniques

Florian Wittmann  a1, Dieter Anhuf  a2 and Wolfgang J. Funk  a1
a1 Max-Planck-Institute for Limnology, Postfach 165, 24302 Plön, Germany
a2 Department of Physical Geography, University of Mannheim, L9, 1-2, 68169 Mannheim, Germany


In central Amazonian white-water floodplains (várzea), different forest types become established in relation to the flood-level gradient. The formations are characterized by typical patterns of species composition, and their architecture results in different light reflectance patterns, which can be detected by Landsat TM image data. Ground checking comprised a detailed forest inventory of 4 ha, with Digital Elevation Models (DEM) being generated for all sites. The results indicate that, at the average flood level of 3 m, species diversity and architecture of the forests changes, thus justifying the classification into the categories of low várzea (várzea baixa) and high várzea (várzea alta). In a first step to scale up, the study sites were observed by aerial photography. Tree heights, crown sizes, the projected crown area coverage and the gap frequencies provide information, which confirms a remotely sensed classification into three different forest types. The structure of low várzea depends on the successional stage, and species diversity increases with increasing age of the formations. In high várzea, only one successional stage was found and species diversity is higher than in all low-várzea formations. The more complex architecture of the high-várzea forest results in a more diffuse behaviour pattern in pixel distribution, when scanned by TM image data.

(Accepted February 2 2002)

Key Words: Amazonia; aerial photography; digital elevation model; flooding gradient; Landsat TM; remote sensing; species distribution; succession; várzea.