Species Diversity Associated with Foundation Species in Temperate and Tropical Forests
Foundation species define and structure ecological communities but are difficult to identify before they are declining. Yet, their defining role in ecosystems suggests they should be a high priority for protection and management while they are still common and abundant. We used comparative analyses of six large forest dynamics plots spanning a temperate-to-tropical gradient in the Western Hemisphere to identify statistical “fingerprints” of potential foundation species based on their size-frequency and abundance-diameter distributions, and their spatial association with five measures of diversity of associated woody plant species. Potential foundation species are outliers from the common “reverse-J” size-frequency distribution, and have negative effects on alpha diversity and positive effects on beta diversity at most spatial lags and directions. Potential foundation species also are more likely in temperate forests, but foundational species groups may occur in tropical forests. As foundation species (or species groups) decline, associated landscape-scale (beta) diversity is likely to decline along with them. Preservation of this component of biodiversity may be the most important consequence of protecting foundation species while they are still common.