Plant and Soil

, Volume 403, Issue 1–2, pp 77–101 | Cite as

Vegetation on ultramafic edaphic ‘islands’ in Kinabalu Park (Sabah, Malaysia) in relation to soil chemistry and elevation

  • Antony van der Ent
  • Peter Erskine
  • David Mulligan
  • Rimi Repin
  • Rositti Karim
Regular Article


Background and aims

Kinabalu Park is the world’s most species-rich hotspot with over 5000 plant species recorded for an area 1200 km2. The aim of this study was to characterise the vegetation on ultramafic edaphic ‘islands’ in relation to soil chemistry and elevation.


In total 87 non-permanent vegetation plots were established covering 12 ultramafic edaphic ‘islands’ from 474 to 2950 m asl in which 2854 plant species in 742 genera and 188 families were recorded from 14 662 collections.


The results show that plant diversity decreases with elevation, but a mid-elevation (circum 1500 m asl) ‘hump’ occurs for some plant groups (orchids, pteridophytes) as a result of the presence of cloud forests. Six main vegetation classes with associated soil types were discerned: (i) Sub-Alpine Scrub; and (ii) Graminoid Scrub, both associated with Hypermagnesic Cambisols (‘hypermagnesian soils’); (iii) Montane Cloud Forest, associated with Cambisols often with accumulation of humus; (iv) Mixed Dipterocarp Forest, associated with deep Ferralsols (‘laterites’); (v) Pioneer Casuarina Scrub; (vi) Mature Mixed Casuarina Forest, both associated with Hypermagnesic Leptosols.


We hypothesised that ‘adverse’ soil chemistry would exacerbate vegetation stunting, and the results confirmed that stunted vegetation and elevational floristic compression occurs on chemically adverse soils (mainly hypermagnesian soils). However, no clear correlation with plant diversity was found, as some of the most ‘adverse’ soils on the summit of Mount Tambuyukon had up to 132 species per 250 m2.


Edaphic factor Floristic zonation Serpentinite Vegetation physiognomy 



We would like to express our gratitude to Sukaibin Sumail, Handry Mujih, Dolois Sumbin, Kinahim Sampang, Yabainus Juhalin and Alim Biun (Sabah Parks) for their help and expertise in the field and in the herbarium. We would also like to thank John Sugau (Sabah Forestry Department), Khoon Meng Wong (Singapore Herbarium) and Max van Balgooy (Leiden Herbarium) for their advise. We would like to gratefully acknowledge the continuous support of Sabah Parks and thank the SaBC for granting permission for conducting research in Sabah. Finally, we thank Mark Tibbett (University of Reading, UK) and three anonymous reviewers for constructive comments that have improved an earlier version of this manuscript. Antony van der Ent was the recipient of an IPRS scholarship in Australia.

Supplementary material

11104_2016_2831_MOESM1_ESM.docx (124 kb)
Supplementary Table 1 Bedrock chemistry of edaphic ‘islands’ (elemental concentrations in μg g−1 or % as indicated, as means and standard error of means). (DOCX 124 kb)
11104_2016_2831_MOESM2_ESM.docx (167 kb)
Supplementary Table 2 Soil chemistry of edaphic ‘islands’ (elemental concentrations in μg g−1, mg g−1, cmol(+) kg−1, or Wt% as means and standard error of means). Abbreviations: ‘total’ are elements after acid digest, ‘ML-3’ is Mehlich-3 extractable P, ‘Olsen’ is NaHCO3-extractable P, ‘DTPA’ are DTPA-extractable trace elements, and ‘exch.’ are major cations exchangeable with silver-thiorea. (DOCX 166 kb)
11104_2016_2831_MOESM3_ESM.docx (101 kb)
Supplementary Table 3 Leaf litter chemistry of edaphic ‘islands’ (elemental concentrations in μg g−1 as means and standard error of means). Results are from micro-wave assisted digestion with HNO3 and H2O2. (DOCX 101 kb)
11104_2016_2831_MOESM4_ESM.docx (102 kb)
Supplementary Table 4 Foliar chemistry of edaphic ‘islands’ (elemental concentrations in μg g−1 as means and standard error of means). Results are from micro-wave assisted digestion with HNO3 and H2O2. (DOCX 102 kb)
11104_2016_2831_MOESM5_ESM.docx (99 kb)
Supplementary Table 5 Pair-wise correlation of soil and foliar elemental concentrations (significant at p = <0.05 indicated in red) using 3 soil samples per plot (n = 297) and 4–6 foliar samples per plot (n = 562). (DOCX 98 kb)
11104_2016_2831_MOESM6_ESM.docx (156 kb)
Supplementary Table 6 Relative contributions of all plant species (presence/absence data) to vegetation classes (SIMPER-analysis). (DOCX 155 kb)
11104_2016_2831_MOESM7_ESM.docx (137 kb)
Supplementary Table 7 Relative contributions of tree plant species (quantitative data) to vegetation classes (SIMPER-analysis). (DOCX 136 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Mined Land Rehabilitation, Sustainable Minerals InstituteThe University of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia
  2. 2.Laboratoire Sols et Environnement, UMR 1120Université de Lorraine – INRANancyFrance
  3. 3.Sabah ParksKota KinabaluMalaysia

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