Impact of tree diversity and environmental conditions on the survival of shrub species in a forest biodiversity experiment in subtropical China

Created at: 2016-11-03

Envisaged journal: Journal of Plant Ecology

Envisaged date: 2016-11-03


Although shrubs are an important component of forests, their role has not yet been considered in forest biodiversity experiments. In the biodiversity–ecosystem functioning (BEF) experiment with subtropical tree species in south-east China (BEF-China) we factorially combined tree with shrub species-diversity treatments. Here, we tested the hypothesis that shrub survival differs between the ten planted shrub species, with lower survival rates of late- than early- successional species and that is affected by tree diversity as well as environmental conditions, such as topography and top soil characteristics, as well as by biotic factors, represented by tree, shrub and herb-layer characteristics.
We analyzed the survival of 42000 shrub individuals in 105 plots varying in tree and shrub species richness at site A of the BEF-China project four years after planting. Shrub survival was analyzed with generalized linear mixed effects models at the level of individuals and with variance partitioning at the plot level. Random intercept and random slope models of different explanatory variables were compared with respect to the Bayesian Information Criterion (BIC).
Important findings
Survival rates differed largely between the ten shrub species, ranging from 26% to 91% for Ardisia crenata and Distylium buxifolium, respectively. Irrespective of species identity, single abiotic factors explained up 58 to 5% of species survival, with a negative effect of altitude and slope inclination and a positive effect of the topsoil carbon to nitrogen ratio, which pointed to drought as the major cause of shrub mortality. In contrast, neither tree nor shrub richness affected shrub survival at this early stage of the experiment. Among the biotic predictors, only herb layer species richness and cover of the dominant fern species (Dicranopteris pedata) affected shrub survival. Overall, our models that included all variables could explain about 65% in shrub survival, with environmental variables being most influential, followed by shrub species identity, while tree species diversity (species richness and identity) and herb-layer characteristics contributed much less. Thus, in this early stage of the experiment the biotic interactions among shrubs and between shrubs and trees have not yet overruled the impact of abiotic environmental factors.


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Calculated Authors

Bo Yang Sabine Both Helge Bruelheide, Prof. Alexandra Erfmeier Werner Härdtle, Prof. Ying Li, Dr. Keping Ma, Prof. Bernhard Schmid, Prof. Thomas Scholten Gunnar Seidler Xuefei Yang Goddert von Oheimb

Data request state

Preparation Project Board Finished