Vegetation-topography interactions in the Selva Maya

Authors: Sara Eshleman*, University of Texas - Austin, Timothy Beach, University of Texas - Austin
Topics: Environmental Science, Biogeography, Remote Sensing
Keywords: vegetation dynamics, lidar, regression analysis, subtropical ecosystems, Central America
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Marshall North, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In most environments, inter-related biotic and abiotic factors influence vegetation composition and distribution. Over large geographic scales, climate is considered the most important driver of vegetation patterns, but other factors dominate at local scales. Locally, topographic characteristics are important contributors to vegetation composition and distribution. Topography also interacts with hydrology and soil, among other factors, to further contribute to vegetation spatial patterns. In Belize, ecological studies since the early 20th century emphasize a strong relationship between vegetation and topography – with higher canopies existing on slopes and at high elevations, and the lowest vegetation occurring in low-lying, flat areas. At the same time, this correlation has rarely been empirically tested. Here, we test and lend additional data to these long-held hypotheses about the vegetation-topography relationship in this region through the use of newly acquired lidar data. We specifically examine the interaction between canopy height and topography within the Rio Bravo Conservation Management Area (RBCMA) in northwestern Belize. Elevation, aspect, microtopography, and topographic position all influence canopy height in northwestern Belize, and in some instances the relationship varies based on the relative size of the canopy and the influence of the surrounding area. The vegetation-topography relationships indicate that high canopies are correlated with elevated, convex surfaces that are likely more well-drained, and on south-facing slopes. Together, vegetation height in northwestern Belize can be partially explained by topographic characteristics. The results aid in understanding the drivers of vegetation distribution in this region.

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