Large-scale forest inventories of the United States and China reveal positive effects of biodiversity on productivity

Research paper by James V Watson, Jingjing Liang, Patrick C Tobin, Xiangdong Lei, James S Rentch, Catherine E Artis

Indexed on: 15 Jul '15Published on: 15 Jul '15Published in: Forest Ecosystems


With the loss of species worldwide due to anthropogenic factors, especially in forested ecosystems, it has become more urgent than ever to understand the biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationship (BEFR). BEFR research in forested ecosystems is very limited and thus studies that incorporate greater geographic coverage and structural complexity are needed.We compiled ground-measured data from approx. one half million forest inventory sample plots across the contiguous United States, Alaska, and northeastern China to map tree species richness, forest stocking, and productivity at a continental scale. Based on these data, we investigated the relationship between forest productivity and tree species diversity, using a multiple regression analysis and a non-parametric approach to account for spatial autocorrelation.In general, forests in the eastern United States consisted of more tree species than any other regions in the country. The highest forest stocking values over the entire study area were concentrated in the western United States and Central Appalachia. Overall, 96.4 % of sample plots (477,281) showed a significant positive effect of species richness on site productivity, and only 3.6 % (17,349) had an insignificant or negative effect.The large number of ground-measured plots, as well as the magnitude of geographic scale, rendered overwhelming evidence in support of a positive BEFR. This empirical evidence provides insights to forest management and biological conservation across different types of forested ecosystems. Forest timber productivity may be impaired by the loss of species in forests, and biological conservation, due to its potential benefits on maintaining species richness and productivity, can have profound impacts on the functioning and services of forested ecosystems.