Tree species diversity promotes litterfall productivity through crown complementarity in subtropical forests

  1. The role of niche complementarity for driving the positive biodiversity–ecosystem productivity relationship has been widely recognized, but there is scant evidence regarding the role of tree canopy structure on this relationship. Litterfall productivity is proportional to forest net primary productivity in natural forests, and we hypothesized that litterfall productivity would increase with tree species diversity via increased tree crown complementarity.
  2. We investigated annual litterfall productivity, species diversity, tree crown architecture, soil moisture content, soil carbon content and stand age across 28 subtropical forest plots in eastern Zhejiang province, China. Simple linear regression was used to examine bivariate relationships among rarified species richness, crown complementarity, total crown volume, soil moisture content, soil carbon content, stand age and litterfall productivity. Structural equation modelling was employed to quantify the direct and indirect effects of species richness on litterfall productivity through tree crown complementarity.
  3. Litterfall productivity increased with rarefied species richness via increasing crown complementarity rather than total crown volume. Species richness, crown complementarity and litterfall productivity increased with soil moisture content, while crown complementarity and litterfall productivity increased with soil carbon content. Neither species richness nor crown complementarity increased with stand age, even though litterfall productivity increased with stand age.
  4. Synthesis. Our study provides evidence for the strong role of tree crown assembly in shaping ecosystem functions in complex natural forests. Our findings suggest that crown spatial complementarity among trees operates mechanistically to drive the positive tree species diversity–litterfall productivity relationship in subtropical forests. We argue that community and/or ecosystem ecology would benefit from more attention to crown variability among coexisting tree species.
Li‐Ting Zheng, Han Y. H. Chen, & En‐Rong Yan
Journal of Ecology