Species mixing boosts root yield in mangrove trees

Abstract

Enhanced species richness can stimulate the productivity of plant communities; however, its effect on the belowground production of forests has scarcely been tested, despite the role of tree roots in carbon storage and ecosystem processes. Therefore, we tested for the effects of tree species richness on mangrove root biomass: thirty-two 6 m by 6 m plots were planted with zero (control), one, two or three species treatments of six-month-old Avicennia marina (A), Bruguiera gymnorrhiza (B) and Ceriops tagal (C). A monoculture of each species and the four possible combinations of the three species were used, with four replicate plots per treatment. Above- and belowground biomass was measured after three and four years’ growth. In both years, the all-species mix (ABC) had significant overyielding of roots, suggesting complementarity mediated by differences in rhizosphere use amongst species. In year four, there was higher belowground than aboveground biomass in all but one treatment. Belowground biomass was strongly influenced by the presence of the most vigorously growing species, A. marina. These results demonstrate the potential for complementarity between fast- and slow-growing species to enhance belowground growth in mangrove forests, with implications for forest productivity and the potential for belowground carbon sequestration.

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Acknowledgments

The study was supported by the Earthwatch Institute, the Leverhulme and Rufford Trusts, and by a grant from Aviva Ltd to JKSL. Our gratitude goes to Laitani Suleiman and the Earthwatch volunteers who assisted in the fieldwork. Thanks to Beth Middleton and Ken Krauss (both of USGS), and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on this paper.

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Correspondence to Joseph K. Sigi Lang’at.

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Communicated by Hermann Heilmeier.

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Lang’at, J.K.S., Kirui, B.K.Y., Skov, M.W. et al. Species mixing boosts root yield in mangrove trees. Oecologia 172, 271–278 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-012-2490-x

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Keywords

  • Root biomass
  • Overyielding
  • Mangrove forests
  • Species richness
  • Ecosystem function