Tree species diversity promotes above ground carbon storage through functional diversity and functional dominance

The relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem function has increasingly been debated as the cornerstone of the processes behind ecosystem services delivery. Experimental and natural field-based studies have come up with nonconsistent patterns of biodiversity–ecosystem function, supporting either niche complementarity or selection effects hypothesis. Here, we used aboveground carbon (AGC) storage as proxy for ecosystem function in a South African mistbelt forest, and analyzed its relationship with species diversity, through functional diversity and functional dominance. We hypothesized that (1) diversity influences AGC through functional diversity and functional dominance effects; and (2) effects of diversity on AGC would be greater for functional dominance than for functional diversity. Community weight mean (CWM) of functional traits (wood density, specific leaf area, and maximum plant height) were calculated to assess functional dominance (selection effects). As for functional diversity (complementarity effects), multitrait functional diversity indices were computed. The first hypothesis was tested using structural equation modeling. For the second hypothesis, effects of environmental variables such as slope and altitude were tested first, and separate linear mixed-effects models were fitted afterward for functional diversity, functional dominance, and both. Results showed that AGC varied significantly along the slope gradient, with lower values at steeper sites. Species diversity (richness) had positive relationship with AGC, even when slope effects were considered. As predicted, diversity effects on AGC were mediated through functional diversity and functional dominance, suggesting that both the niche complementarity and the selection effects are not exclusively affecting carbon storage. However, the effects were greater for functional diversity than for functional dominance. Furthermore, functional dominance effects were strongly transmitted by CWM of maximum plant height, reflecting the importance of forest vertical stratification for diversity–carbon relationship. We therefore argue for stronger complementary effects that would be induced also by complementary light-use efficiency of tree and species growing in the understory layer.
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RUFORUM Journal Articles