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Free Content Tree species identity outweighs the effects of tree species diversity and forest fragmentation on understorey diversity and composition

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Background & aim – In general, biodiversity has positive effects on ecosystem functioning. In forests, understorey vegetation is influenced by both the composition and species richness of the overstorey through species-specific effects on environmental conditions at the forest floor. Forest fragmentation is also known to influence understorey vegetation composition and richness. However, the combined effects of tree species diversity and forest fragmentation have not been studied yet. With the TREEWEB research platform, consisting of 53 forest plots along a tree species diversity and forest fragmentation gradient, we aim to unravel the combined effects of tree species diversity, tree species identity and forest fragmentation on the understorey composition and diversity.

Methods – The TREEWEB platform includes forest plots of three tree species richness levels, containing all possible species combinations of Quercus robur, Quercus rubra and Fagus sylvatica. Complete dilution is avoided in the design, allowing separation between tree species identity and diversity effects. Vegetation surveys were conducted in all plots to investigate the species richness, species diversity, compositional turnover and cover of the herb layer as well as the shrub layer cover.

Key results – Within the TREEWEB platform, overstorey-understorey diversity relationships were mainly characterised by tree species identity effects. No clear effects of tree species diversity and forest fragmentation on understorey composition and diversity were found.

Conclusion – Tree species identity effects were most important in explaining the observed patterns in the understorey vegetation. Further in-depth research will allow us to disentangle which mechanisms underlie these patterns and whether effects of fragmentation are more pronounced at higher trophic levels.
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Keywords: FOREST FRAGMENTATION; IDENTITY EFFECTS; TREE SPECIES DIVERSITY; TREEWEB; UNDERSTOREY VEGETATION

Document Type: Regular Paper

Publication date: November 1, 2017

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