, Volume 174, Issue 3, pp 609–621 | Cite as

Advancing biodiversity–ecosystem functioning science using high-density tree-based experiments over functional diversity gradients

  • Cornelia M. Tobner
  • Alain PaquetteEmail author
  • Peter B. Reich
  • Dominique Gravel
  • Christian Messier


Increasing concern about loss of biodiversity and its effects on ecosystem functioning has triggered a series of manipulative experiments worldwide, which have demonstrated a general trend for ecosystem functioning to increase with diversity. General mechanisms proposed to explain diversity effects include complementary resource use and invoke a key role for species’ functional traits. The actual mechanisms by which complementary resource use occurs remain, however, poorly understood, as well as whether they apply to tree-dominated ecosystems. Here we present an experimental approach offering multiple innovative aspects to the field of biodiversity–ecosystem functioning (BEF) research. The International Diversity Experiment Network with Trees (IDENT) allows research to be conducted at several hierarchical levels within individuals, neighborhoods, and communities. The network investigates questions related to intraspecific trait variation, complementarity, and environmental stress. The goal of IDENT is to identify some of the mechanisms through which individuals and species interact to promote coexistence and the complementary use of resources. IDENT includes several implemented and planned sites in North America and Europe, and uses a replicated design of high-density tree plots of fixed species-richness levels varying in functional diversity (FD). The design reduces the space and time needed for trees to interact allowing a thorough set of mixtures varying over different diversity gradients (specific, functional, phylogenetic) and environmental conditions (e.g., water stress) to be tested in the field. The intention of this paper is to share the experience in designing FD-focused BEF experiments with trees, to favor collaborations and expand the network to different conditions.


Experimental design Tree-dominated ecosystems Complementarity Functional diversity Functional traits IDENT 



A large number of researchers are already conducting experiments on existing IDENT sites, or are in the process of establishing new ones. The authors wish to thank them for stimulating exchanges of ideas. A. Stefanski’s help with setting up the AuCl experiment is much appreciated, as well as the everlasting support of the Quebec provincial nurseries. Also, we wish to express our deepest gratitude to the numerous people that have helped establish and maintain the present sites. IDENT is part of the TreeDivNet, an international platform for research on the relation between tree species diversity and ecosystem functioning, which helped foster yet more exchange of ideas and new partnerships at the last meeting in Florence, Italy (February 2013). Two anonymous reviewers contributed constructive ideas to help improve this article. This work complies with the current laws of Canada and the USA, in which the experiments were established.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cornelia M. Tobner
    • 1
  • Alain Paquette
    • 1
    Email author
  • Peter B. Reich
    • 2
    • 3
  • Dominique Gravel
    • 4
    • 5
  • Christian Messier
    • 1
    • 6
  1. 1.Center for Forest ResearchUniversité du Québec à MontréalMontrealCanada
  2. 2.Department of Forest ResourcesUniversity of MinnesotaSt. PaulUSA
  3. 3.Hawkesbury Institute for the EnvironmentUniversity of Western SydneyRichmondAustralia
  4. 4.Département de biologie, chimie et géographieUniversité du Québec à RimouskiQuebecCanada
  5. 5.Québec Center for Biodiversity SciencesQuebecCanada
  6. 6.Institut des Sciences de la Forêt Tempérée (ISFORT)Université du Québec en Outaouais (UQO)RiponCanada

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