Growth-trait relationships in subtropical forest are stronger at higher diversity
Bongers FJ, Schmid B, Sun ZK, Li Y, Hardtle W, von Oheimb G, Li Y, Li S, Staab M, Ma KP*, Liu XJ*
Journal of Ecology
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1. Understanding how species diversity affects plant performance is a central question in biodiversity–ecosystem functioning (BEF) research. At the community level, functional trait means and trait dissimilarities have been used to explain biodiversity effects, but with mixed success. To disentangle how functional traits explain community growth and underpin biodiversity–ecosystem functioning relationships, we should elucidate how plant traits affect individual growth across species richness levels, because the role of functional traits on growth depends on the ecological context of the individual.
2. We addressed this topic by using detailed data of twelve functional traits and annual growth for 529 individual trees of 31 species at five species‐richness levels in a large forest biodiversity experiment in south‐east China from 4 to 9 years after planting.
3. Our analyses show first that individual trait values can change with species richness, indicating that trait values can change due to the biotic context. Secondly, we show that early tree growth is more strongly affected by traits than by species richness. Finally, our data show that growth–trait relationships can change with species richness and with forest age. Trait effects on growth are more pronounced at higher richness levels, indicating that measuring traits on individual trees across richness levels can improve growth predictions and inference of BEF relationships that are shaped by functional traits.
4. Synthesis. This study shows that functional trait values and their effect on individual tree growth depend on species richness. Our data support the notion that to elucidate how functional traits shape biodiversity–ecosystem functioning relationships, an important step is to consider the biotic context of individual trees within a community. We have made an initial step by analysing how functional traits affect individual‐tree growth in a diversity‐dependent manner and future research should continue by elucidating the role of traits on tree–tree interactions across diversity levels.