Tree species promote forest productivity through complementary traits above and belowground

Xin Jing, Bart Muys, Helge Bruelheide, Ellen Desie, Stephan Hättenschwiler, Hervé Jactel, Bogdan Jaroszewicz, Paul Kardol, Sophia Ratcliffe, Michael Scherer-Lorenzen, Federico Selvi, Karen Vancampenhout, Fons van der Plas, Kris Verheyen, Lars Vesterdal, Juan Zuo, Koenraad Van Meerbeek

Above- and belowground complementarity in European mature forests. Tree species richness positively affects canopy packing and rooting depth variability, which in turn enhance aboveground wood production (indicated by the solid blue lines)

Over the last three decades, numerous studies have been conducted to investigate the consequences of biodiversity loss for ecosystem functioning. The overall conclusion is that diverse plant communities generally provide greater benefits to human society (e.g., wood production for materials and energy) than depauperate communities. However, most studies have investigated artificially designed short-lived ecosystems, e.g., microcosms, mesocosms or experimental grassland communities, and translating the results and insights into the underlying mechanisms to real-world ecosystems with long-lived plant species, such as mature forests, remains a major challenge.

Here we used a European dataset of mature forests to investigate whether characteristics of the dominant tree species or complementarity between tree species explain the effects of tree diversity on aboveground wood production. We found that trees are complementary both capture and use of above and belowground resources, e.g., light, water, and nutrients, and as a result, forest productivity is promoted by diverse forests.

Our results highlight that the study of the aboveground forest compartment, and also the largely understudied belowground tree structure, are important to understand tree species richness-forest productivity relationships in mature forests. Choosing tree species with complementary above- and belowground characteristics should be considered in afforestation and forest management to promote tree diversity and productivity in European forests.

Read the article in full here.

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