Plant Functional Traits Are the Mediators in Regulating Effects of Abiotic Site Conditions on Aboveground Carbon Stock-Evidence From a 30 ha Tropical Forest Plot

Understanding the relative contribution of abiotic and biotic factors to the formation of ecosystem functioning across scales is vital to evaluate ecosystem services. Here, we elucidate the effects of abiotic site conditions (i.e., soil and topographic properties) and plant functional traits on variations of stand aboveground carbon (AGC) stock in an old-growth tropical montane rain forest. The response-effect framework in functional ecology is adopted in examining how plant functional traits respond to environmental changes and affect ecosystem functioning. We measured specific leaf area and wood density of 270 woody plant species and estimated stand AGC stocks in a 30-ha forest plot. The relationships among environmental factors (ENVIRONMENT), community-weighted means of functional traits (TRAITS) and stand AGC stocks across nested spatial scales were disentangled by structural equation modeling. The results showed that the stands composed of ‘acquisitive’ species (high specific leaf area and low wood density) had low AGC, whereas stands composed of ‘conservative’ species (low specific leaf area and high wood density) had high AGC. TRAITS responded to ENVIRONMENT and affected AGC directly. ENVIRONMENT had an indirect effect on AGC through its direct effect on TRAITS. TRAITS were more important than ENVIRONMENT in driving variations of AGC. The effects of TRAITS on AGC increased, while the effects of ENVIRONMENT on AGC decreased with the increase of spatial scales in the tropical montane rain forest. Our study suggests that plant functional traits are the mediators in regulating effects of abiotic site conditions on ecosystem functions.

Wensheng Bu, Jihong Huang, Han Xu, Runguo Zang, Yi Ding, Yide Li, Mingxian Lin, Jinsong Wang, & Cancan Zhang
Frontiers in Plant Science