Indexed on: 10 Mar '16Published on: 10 Mar '16Published in: Conservation Biology
In the global campaign against biodiversity loss in forest ecosystems, land managers need to know the status of forest biodiversity, but practical guidelines for conserving biodiversity in forest management are lacking. A major obstacle is the incomplete understanding of the relationship between site primary productivity and plant diversity, due to insufficient ecosystem-wide data, especially for taxonomically and structurally diverse forest ecosystems. We investigated the effects of site productivity (the site's inherent capacity to grow timber) on tree species richness across 19 types of forest ecosystems in North America and China through 3 ground-sourced forest inventory data sets (U.S. Forest Inventory and Analysis, Cooperative Alaska Forest Inventory, and Chinese Forest Management Planning Inventory). All forest types conformed to a consistent and highly significant (P < 0.001) hump-shaped unimodal relationship, of which the generalized coefficients of determination averaged 20.5% over all the forest types. That is, tree species richness first increased as productivity increased at a progressively slower rate, and, after reaching a maximum, richness started to decline. Our consistent findings suggest that forests of high productivity would sustain few species because they consist mostly of flat homogeneous areas lacking an environmental gradient along which a diversity of species with different habitats can coexist. The consistency of the productivity-biodiversity relationship among the 3 data sets we examined makes it possible to quantify the expected tree species richness that a forest stand is capable of sustaining, and a comparison between the actual species richness and the sustainable values can be useful in prioritizing conservation efforts.