Amazonian rainforests have been broadly classified into terra firme (unflooded forest), seasonal várzea (forest flooded periodically by white-water or water rich in suspended sediments), seasonal igapó (forest flooded periodically by black or clear water low in suspended sediments) and tidal várzea (forest flooded twice daily by freshwater backed by the incoming tide). There are also permanent white-water swamp forest and permanent igapó but tidal igapó does not seem to occur.

Furthermore, despite the fact that that Amazonian rainforest often looks fairly homogenous from the air at least 13 centres of plant endemism have been recognised. These include the Imataca Centre, situated on the the Venezuela-Guiana border in the northeast corner of Bolivar State and the southwestern Delta Amacuro State of Venezuela, the West Guiana Centre, which include much of Guyana and Surinam, the East Guiana Centre, which equates to French Guiana, the Imeri Centre, situated in the Venezuela-Brasil-Columbia borderlands and centred on the upper Rio Negro basin, the Napo Centre situated in the Rio Napo area in Western Amazonia, the São Paulo de Olivenca Centre, which includes the area around the small community São Paulo de Olivenca in Western Brazil on the upper Amazon, the Tefé Centre based on the Tefé tributary in western Brazil, the Manaus Centre, situated around Manaus in Central Amazonia, the Rio Trombetas Centre, based on the Rio Trombetas basin in northern Brazil, the Belém Centre, situated near the mouth of the Amazon, the Tapajós Centre, situated around the Tapajós tributary southeast of Manaus, the Rondônia-Aripuanã Centre, extending from the small community of Rondônia to the Aripuanã tributary in western Brazil, and the East Peru-Acre Centre based on the area around eastern Peru (on the Peru-Bolivian border) and the River Acre in Brazil.


Imataca Terra Firme Rainforest

This area mainly comprises the hilly, granitic Sorrania de Imataca and the Altiplanicie de Nuria plateau. The forests typically have a two-layered structure with a canopy reaching up the 30 m high, and are characterized by an abundance of endemic Chrysobalanaceae. The dominant trees include the largely endemic Catostemma commune (Bombacaceae), Cedrela odorata (Meliaceae), Clathrotropis brachrypetala, Hymenaea courbaril, Mora gonggrijpii (Caesalpiniaceae), Erisma uncinatum Qualea dinizii, Vochysia tetraphylla (Vochysiaceae), Inga punctata (Mimosaceae), Licania densiflora, Parinari excelsa (Chrysobalanaceae), Tabebuia stenocalyx (Bignoniaceae) and Virola surinamensis (Myisticaceae). In the patchy cloud forest on the Altiplanicie de Nuria there are additional endemic species. Among plants likely to be endemic to this area are Licania latistipula (Chrysobalanceae), Piranhea longepedunculata (Euphorbiaceae), Sloanea megacarpa (Elaeocarpaceae), Episcia adenosiphon (Gesneraceae), Salacia mucronata (Hippocrateaceae), Ocotea subalveolata (Lauraceae), Pithecellobium nuriense (Fabaceae), Calycorectes enormis (Myrtaceae), Dilkea magnifica (Passifloraceae), Paullinia nuriensis (Sapindaceae) and Picramnia nuriensis (Simarubaceae).


West Guiana Terra Firme Rainforest

In northwest Guyana near the Moruca River the primary forest is dominated by species of the families Chrysobalanaceae and Lecythidaceae and particularly by large numbers of the Guiana Shield endemics such as Eschweilera decolorans, E. sagotiana and E. wachenheimii (Lecythidaceae). The canopy reaches heights of about 30 m but this is exceeded by a number of emergents growing up to 45 m. These include the endemic Aspidosperma excelsum (Apocynaceae), Hymenolobium flavum (Fabaceae) and Peltogyne venosa subsp. venosa (Caesalpiniaceae). Other important trees include the endemic Alexa imperatricis (Fabaceae), Goupia glabra (Celastraceae) and Licania alba (Chrysobalanaceae). Lianas are not particularly common but include the endemic Dicranostyles guianensis (Convolvulaceae) and Tetracera volubilis subsp. volubilis (Dilleniaceae), but there are large numbers of big epiphytes such as the endemic Clusia palmicida (Clusiaceae) with its extremely thick aerial roots. The shrub layer is very rich with some 91 species recorded in just 0.1 ha. Among the most abundant are the endemic small tree Quiina guianensis (Quiinaceae) and the endemic shrub Tabernaemontana undulata (Apocynaceae). Also common is the small palm Bactris oligoclada. The herb layer, on the other hand, is virtually none existent with the ground largely dominated by seedlings of trees, shrubs, hemi-epiphytes and lianas.


East Guiana Terra Firme Rainforest (information required)


Imeri Terra Firme Rainforest

This area is composed of gently undulating peneplains and flat plains. Over much of the area evergreen forests occur with at least 3 distinct tree layers and with canopies reaching as high as 40 m. Common trees include Clathrotropis glaucophylla, Lecointea amazonica (Fabaceae), Erisma uncinatum (Vochysiaceae), Peltogyne venosa (Caesalpiniaceae) together with many species of Annonaceae, Burseraceae, Chrysobalanaceae, Lauraceae, Meliaceae, Moraceae, Myrsticaceae and Sapindaceae. Tall palms are also abundant particularly species of Bactris, Leopoldinia, Oenocarpus and Socratea, while smaller, shade tolerant species of Geonome are frequent in the under storey. Lianas and epiphytes, on the other hand, are relatively uncommon. These forests tend to have dark interiors and consequently the under storey vegetation is not very well developed. The few ground herbs may include Diplasia karataefolia (Cyperaceae) and species of Ischnosiphon, Monotagma (Marantaceae), Olyra, Pariana (Poaceae), Rapatea and Spathanthus (Rapateaceae). Plants considered to be endemic to these forests include Adelobotrys barbata, Miconia truncata, Mouriri angustifolia, Opisthocentra clidemioides (Melastomataceae), Coussarea grandis, Henriquezia nitida, Pagamea sessiliflora, Psychotria pacimonica, P. spiciflora, Tocoyena pendulina (Rubiaceae), Macrolobium venulosum and Sclerolobium dwyeri (Fabaceae).


Napo Terra Firme Rainforest

These western Amazonian forests are considered to be the most species-rich forests in the World. The area experiences the highest annual precipitation in Amazonia but in the past it has been subject to considerable climatic fluctuations which possibly generated high levels of evolution and speciation. Forest canopies can reach heights of up to 40 m while emergents can grow as high as 50 m. The important plant families include Arecaceae, Fabaceae, Meliaceae, Moraceae, Myristicaceae and Rubiaceae. Some of the typical trees include Cedrelinga catenaeformis, Coussapoa trinerva, Erisma uncinatum, Macrolobium acaciifolium, Parkia multijuga, Phragmotheca ecuadoriensis, Vismia baccifera and various important timber species like Cedrela odorata (tropical cedar), Ceiba pentandra (kapok) and Swietener macrophylla (mahogany). Palms are also important with species such as Astrocaryum and Bactris and, in fact, the most abundant tree in these forests is the sub canopy palm Iriartea deltoidea. The western parts of this zone possibly have the highest palm diversity in Amazonia. In a study in the northern part of the zone in the Caquetá area of the Colombian Amazon, 1223 plant species were encountered in 10, 0.1 ha plots. These comprised 369 genera in 112 families, with 12 pteridophyte families, 3 gymnosperm families (Gnetaceae, Podocarpaceae and Zamiaceae) and 97 angiosperm families.


São Paulo de Olivenca Terra Firme Rainforest (information required)


Manaus Terra Firme Rainforest

Here the rainfall is relatively low and has a distinct seasonality, and the soils are poor. Nevertheless, these forests are extremely species-rich with some 513 species of high trees recorded over an area of 3 ha comprising about 18 genera and 47 families. In one ha alone up to 285 species, 138 genera and 47 families have been recorded. These results dispel the idea that high species richness in the Amazon is associated with nutrient rich soils and relatively high rainfall. The soils in the Manaus area have very little agricultural value. The largest trees included Dinizia excelsa, Minquartia guianensis and Sloanea sinemariensis. Among the many endemic tree species were Duckeodendron cestroides (Duckeodendraceae) and Rhabdodendron amazonicum (Rhabdodendraceae), both of which also belong to endemic families.  In another study covering some 20 ha the herbaceous ground layer was found to comprise about 35 species distributed across 24 genera and 18 families, although 10 of these were pteridophyte families. Marantaceae and Cyperaceae were the richest angiosperm families while Marantaceae and Poaceae provided the greatest ground cover and abundance. However, pteridiphytes (all families together) were the most abundant group with some 54% of all individuals, and the filmy fern Trichomanes pinnatum was the overall most abundant species. Other abundant taxa included Monotagma spicata (Marantaceae) and the grass Pariana radiciflora, while other typical herbaceous angiosperms are Dieffenbachia elegans, Dracontium longipes (Araceae), Bromelia tubulosa (Bromeliaceae), Calyptrocarya bicolor, Diplasia karataefolia, Mapania sylvatica (Cyperaceae), Heliconia acuminata (Heliconiaceae), Calathea altissima, Ischnosiphon arouma (Marantaceae), Piper consanguineum (Piperaceae), Ischnanthus panicoides (Poaceae) and Renealmia floribunda (Zingiberaceae). In a similar study in Borneo, it is of interest to note that a species Trichomanes was the second most abundant plant. Marantaceae is not an important family in Bornea while Zingiberaceae (abundant in Borneo) is not an important family in Manaus. However, the species in these two families are thought to play similar ecological roles.


Tefé Terra Firme Rainforest (information required)


Trombetas Terra Firme Rainforest

This area has a varied topography including undulating hills and lowland plains. Much of the forest has a high canopy reaching heights of 30 or 40 m with emergents up to 50 m. Some of the more prominent trees include Duckeodendron cestroides (Solanaceae), Eschweilera wachenheimii (Lecythidaceae), Manilkara bidentata (Sapotaceae), Pouteria engleri (Sapotaceae), Qualea labouriauara (Vochysiaceae), Rinorea guianensis (Violaceae) and Swartzia reticulata (Fabaceae). Also abundant are is the giant Brazil nut tree Bertholletia excelsa (Lecythidaceae), and Dinizia excelsa (Fabaceae). Among the local endemic trees is Vouacapoua americana (Fabaceae), which is also an important timber tree. Interestingly these forests are not rich in endemic Chrysobalanceae but host a number of endemics from other plant families. There is also a high degree of local biodiversity – in one hectare alone 235 tree species were recorded. The most important plant families are Annonaceae, Burseraceae, Caesalpiniaceaqe, Chrysobalanceae, Fabaceae, Lauraceae, Mimosaceae, Moraceae, Rubiaceae and Sapotaceae.


Belém Centre Terra Firme Rainforest (information required)


Tapajós Centre Terra Firme Rainforest (information required)


Rondônia-Aripuanã Terra Firme Rainforest (information required)


East Peru-Acre Centre Terra Firme Rainforest

Studies on the southern fringe of this zone in the Madidi National Park (Bolivia) show the most important tree species are Celtis schippii (Ulmaceae), Leonia crassa (Violaceae), Lunania parviflora (Salicaceae), Meliosma herbertii (Sabiaceae), Otoba parvifolia (Myristicaceae), Pseudolmedia laevis, Sorocea briquetii (Moraceae), Socratea excorrhiza (Arecaceae) and Tetragastris altissima (Burseraceae). Other common large trees included Guarea pterorhachis (Meliaceae), Hasseltia floribunda (Salicaceae), Hieronyma achorneoides (Euphorbiaceae), Iriartea deltoidea (Arecaceae), Rinorea viridifolia (Violaceae), Unonopsis floribunda (Annonaceae), while common under storey trees included Cheiloclinium cognatum (Hippocrateaceae), Hirtella racemosa (Chrysobalancaceae), Roentgenia bracteomana (Bignoniaceae) and Siparuna bifida (Siparaunaceae). This study adds support to several other studies that the palm Iriartea deltoidea is a very important component of the forests in Western Amazonia. Although herbaceous species were not covered in this study lianas were. Typical species included Byttneria pescarpriifolia (Malvaceae), Petraea maynensis (family?) and Roentgenia bracteomana (Bignoniaceae), but overall Bignoniaceae was the richest liana family with some 40 species. In total 877 species of woody plants with stem diameters greater than 2.5 cm were recorded in 44, 0.1 ha plots. The most important families in terms of species and numbers of indiviuals were Annonaceae, Arecaceae, Bignoniaceae, Chrysobalanaceae, Buxaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Fabaceae, Flacourtiaceae, Lauraceae, Meliaceae, Moraceae, Myrtaceae, Piperaceae, Rubiaceae and Violaceae, although Buxaceae (only represented by the small tree Styloceras brokawii) and Piperaceae were only found in abundance at one but at different sample sites.


Lower Amazon Varzea

Varzea at the mouth of the Amazon is characterized by extensive poorly drained areas in an intricate mosaic of sediment islands and channels know as ‘the region of islands’. The floods are tidally influenced. The incoming tide pushes huge volumes of river water into the surrounding areas, and so this varzea differs from the seasonally flooded varzea in the middle and upper Amazon. It also differs in having both forests and flooded savannas. On Marajó Island (Ilha Marajó) the varzea forest has a low canopy dominated by palms such as Astrocaryum murumura, Euterpe oleracea, Jessenia bataua, Manicaria saccifera, Maurita flexuosa, Maximiliana regia, Oenocarpus bacaba, Raphia taedigera and Socratea exorrhiza together with various species of Geonoma. Other fairly common trees include Macrolobium acaciifolium, Mora paraensis, Pachira aquatica, Symphonia globulifera, Triplaris surinamensis and various important timber trees like Cedrelinga castanaeformis, Ceiba pentandra and Virola surinamensis. Several indigenous trees including Mauritia flexuosa, Mouriri ulei and Spondias mombim produce fleshy fruits that provide an important food source for the resident fauna including fruit eating fish. A number of large lianas occur such as Guatteria scandens, Landolphia paraensis and Strychnos blackii and various shrubs may be encountered. One species, Machaerium lanatum, often forms dense thickets on riverbanks. On the large sediment island of Ilha Grand de Gurupá most of the vegetation is flooded savanna rather than forest. Here grasses such as Echinochloa polystachya, Hymenachne amplexicaulis, Leersia hexandra, Luziola spruceana, Panicum elephantipes, Paspalum fasciculatum and species of Oryza occur together with various sedges like Cyperus luzulae, Scirpus cubensis and Scleria geniculata.


Central Amazon Varzea

In the river basin of the central Amazon, which includes much of the Caquetá / Japura, Juruá, Purus and Solimões river systems, seasonal flooding can last for up to 8 months and reach a depth of 12 m. Here unlike the upper Amazon varzea, the varzea forests are very distinct with a diverse under story and are generally more species-rich that lower Amazon varzea. However, unlike the lower Amazon, palms are poorly represented. On the levees the most abundant trees are Ceiba pentandra, Eschweilera albiflora, Hura crepitans, Neoxythece elegans, Parinari excelsa and Piranhea trifoliata. In addition to Ceiba pentandra, which is an enormous tree with large buttress roots, several other important timber trees occur in this part of the Amazon including Calycophyllum spruceanum, Carapa guianensis and Iryanthera surinamensis. The few palms include Astrocaryum jauari, A. murumura, Mauritia flexuosa, andspecies of Bactris such as the local endemic Bactris tefensis (Arecaceae). Other charactersitic trees are Euterpe oleraceae and Virola surinamensis, both of which are restricted to flood forests, and Ceiba burchellii, Coumarouna micrantha, Manilkara inundata, Ochroma lagopus, Parkia inundabilis and Septotheca tessmannii. Several trees, including Astrocaryum jauari, Rollinia deliciosa and Spondias mombin produce fleshy fruits that are critical to the survival of certain fruit-eating fish. Among the characteristic under storey plants are species of the families Heliconiaceae, Maranthaceae and Zingerberaceae.


Upper Amazon Varzea

In the river basins of the upper Amazon, including much of the Maránon, Madre de Dios and Ucayali river systems, the river floods twice a year due to seasonal input first from the Peruvian Andes and then from the Ecuadorian Andes. The floods can last for up to 10 months and reach a depth of up to 7 m. This has created a zonation of successional stages with a pioneer zones dominated by grasses such as Echinocloa polystachya, Gynerium sagittatum and Paspalum repens. In more developed areas shrubs like Adenaria floribunda, Alchornea castanaefolia and Salix martiana have become established but pioneer trees like Annona hypoglauca, Astrocaryum jauari and Cecropia latiloba eventually succeed these. The climax forest is finally dominated mainly by species of the genera Chorisia, Eschweilera, Hura, Spondias and Virola, but some of the more conspicuous trees include Calycophyllum spruceanum, Ceiba samauma, Cedrela odorata, Copaifera reticulata and Phytelephas macrocarpa. Like the central Amazon, the undergrowth here includes many species of the plant families Heliconiaceae, Maranthaceae and Zingerberaceae. However, the varzea here is less distinctive than in the central and lower Amazon, but as a consequence tends to be more species-rich. Moving slightly south to the Braga-Supay and Zobillo zones east of the town of Jenaro Herrera in Peru, the varzea appears to have a different species composition. Here the varzea (or tahuampa) forest is dominated by Eschweilera parrifolia and E. turbinata (Lecythidaceae), while other important large trees include Campsiandra angustifolia (Fabaceae), Licania micrantha (Chrysobalanaceae), Luehea cymulosa (Sparrmanniaceae) and Parinari excelsa (Chrysobalanceae), Other characteristic species of this varzea included Coccoloba densifrons (Polygonaceae), Duguetia spixiana (Annonaceae), Pouteria procera (Sapotaceae), Pseudoxandra polyphleba (Annonaceae), Sapium glandulosum (Euphorbiaceae) but palms are absent. In forest (described as high restinga) where flooding is less prolonged and may only last for about one month the vegetation is markedly different and dominated by large trees like Ceiba pentandra (Malvaceae), Guarea macrophylla (Meliaceae), Hura crepitans (Euphorbiaceae), Maquira coriacea (Moraceae), Spondias mombin (Anacardiaceae) and Terminalia oblonga (Combretaceae). Palms are also present and one species, Scheelea brachyclada (Arecaceae) was one of the dominant trees. Notable species in the lower strata included Drypetes amazonica (Putranjivaceae), Leonia glycicarpa (Violaceae), Protium nodulosum and Theobroma cacao. Surprisingly it was found that the forests with the longest flooding period contained the most species but this was not as rich as adjacent terra firma forest.


Eastern Igapó Rainforest

On the Rio Tapajós clear water river in eastern Amazonia flooding occurs between December and June. The most abundant trees are Campsiandra laurifolia (Fabaceae), Couepia paraensis (Chrysobalanaceae), Leopoldinia pulchra (Arecaceae) and Tabebuia barbata (Bignoniaceae), but overall the most species-rich families are Chrysobalanaceae and Fabaceae. Other typical trees, which appear to be common to all Amazonia’s Igapó forests, include Excellodendron coriaceum, Humiria balsamifera, Humiriastrum cuspidatum, Licania apetala and Panopsis rubescens. However, these forests were considered to be less species-rich than other Igapó forests studied in the Brazilian Amazon. The number of tree species ranged from 21-30 per hectare while the number of families ranged from 10-13. This relatively low diversity was mainly put down to the fact that these forests have a longer flooding period and lower nutrient soils.


Central Igapó Rainforest

In the igapó forest along the Rio Tarumã-Mirim an affluent of the Rio Negro about 20 km north of Manaus, floods can last for seven months (between December and June) and reach depths of 15 m submerging roots, seedlings, shrubs and small trees. The forest can be divided into four vertical layers with a canopy reaching 12 m or so. The typical canopy species include Aldinia latifolia (Chrysobalanaceae), Erisma calcaratum (Vochysiaceae), Parkia discolor (Fabaceae) and Swartzia polyphylla (Violaceae), but the two tallest species, Aldinia latifolia and Erisma calcaratum, can reach heights of up to 25 m and often emerge above the canopy. In the sub canopy, which ranges in height from about 8-10 m, the main species are Caraipa grandifolia (Clusiaceae), Eschweilera albiflora (Lecythidaceae), Parkia pectinata (Fabaceae) and Zygia cataractae (Fabaceae). The third level ranges from 4-7 m and typically includes Faramea sessilifolia, Ferdinandusa rudgeoides (Rubiaceae), Microplumeria anomala (Apocynaceae) and Virola elongata (Myristicaceae). The shrub layer at 1-3 m mainly comprises Tabernaemontana rupicola (Apocynaceae). Other characteristic igapó trees found here include Amphirrhox surinamensis, Swartzia argentea (Violaceae), Couepia paraensis (Crysobalanaceae), Eugenia inundata (Myrtaceae), Crudia amazonica, Licania heteromorpha, Macrolobium acaciifolium (Caesalpiniaceae) and Tabebuia barbata (Bignoniaceae). Many of these species have a high tolerance to flooding and are restricted to blackwater inundation areas (igapó) and form a fairly homogenous stand along much of the Rio Negro (black river), although there is a degree of zonation with species more tolerant of flooding at lower levels and less tolerant species at high levels.  To judge the species-richness of these forests a study based on four 25 x 10 m plots identified 44 tree species in 38 genera and 22 families, with the most important families being Caesalpiniaceae, Clusiaceae, Fabaceae, Lecythidaceae and Rubiaceae. This igapó forest is considered to have a high level of endemism.



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