The mechanisms that maintain palm species diversity in tropical rain forests are still debated. Spatial variation in forest structure produces small-scale environmental heterogeneity, which in turn can affect plant survival and reproductive performance. An understanding of how palms respond to variation in forest heterogeneity may help to explain the diversity and structure of their assemblages. We used multivariate ordination statistics and multiple linear models to analyse how palm assemblages are affected by forest structure and landscape features in central Amazonia. In 72 (250×4 m) forest plots distributed over an area of 64 km2, we recorded all seedling and adult palms, and measured topographic and soil variables, and components of forest structure and tree abundance. We found 16976 adults and 18935 seedlings of 46 palm species and five varieties including two morphological forms making a total of 50 botanical entities. Results show that landscape features (altitude, slope, proportions of soil sand and clay) and various components of forest structure (such as degree of forest openness, abundance of forest trees, logs and snags, and leaf litter mass), influence spatial variation in richness, abundance and species composition of palms, creating ecological gradients in palm community composition. Despite the statistically significant effects of environmental variables, most species occurred throughout the full range of the ecological gradients we studied, indicating that there is either relatively weak niche specialization in the palms, or that the competition between the species is mediated by diffuse demographic processes that cannot be evaluated only through studies of species distributions.