Functional composition drives ecosystem function through multiple mechanisms in a broadleaved subtropical forest
Understanding the role of biodiversity (B) in maintaining ecosystem function (EF) is a foundational scientific goal with applications for resource management and conservation. Two main hypotheses have emerged that address B–EF relationships: niche complementarity (NC) and the mass-ratio (MR) effect. We tested the relative importance of these hypotheses in a subtropical old-growth forest on the island nation of Taiwan for two EFs: aboveground biomass (ABG) and coarse woody productivity (CWP). Functional dispersion (FDis) of eight plant functional traits was used to evaluate complementarity of resource use. Under the NC hypothesis, EF will be positively correlated with FDis. Under the MR hypothesis, EF will be negatively correlated with FDis and will be significantly influenced by community-weighted mean (CWM) trait values. We used path analysis to assess how these two processes (NC and MR) directly influence EF and may contribute indirectly to EF via their influence on canopy packing (stem density). Our results indicate that decreasing functional diversity and a significant influence of CWM traits were linked to increasing AGB for all eight traits in this forest supporting the MR hypothesis. Interestingly, CWP was primarily influenced by NC and MR indirectly via their influence on canopy packing. Maximum height explained more of the variation in both AGB and CWP than any of the other plant functional traits. Together, our results suggest that multiple mechanisms operate simultaneously to influence EF, and understanding their relative importance will help to elucidate the role of biodiversity in maintaining ecosystem function.