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Tree species diversity mitigates disturbance impacts on the forest carbon cycle


Biodiversity fosters the functioning and stability of forest ecosystems and, consequently, the provision of crucial ecosystem services that support human well-being and quality of life. In particular, it has been suggested that tree species diversity buffers ecosystems against the impacts of disturbances, a relationship known as the “insurance hypothesis”. Natural disturbances have increased across Europe in recent decades and climate change is expected to amplify the frequency and severity of disturbance events. In this context, mitigating disturbance impacts and increasing the resilience of forest ecosystems is of growing importance. We have tested how tree species diversity modulates the impact of disturbance on net primary production and the total carbon stored in living biomass for a temperate forest landscape in Central Europe. Using the simulation model iLand to study the effect of different disturbance regimes on landscapes with varying levels of tree species richness, we found that increasing diversity generally reduces the disturbance impact on carbon storage and uptake, but that this effect weakens or even reverses with successional development. Our simulations indicate a clear positive relationship between diversity and resilience, with more diverse systems experiencing lower disturbance-induced variability in their trajectories of ecosystem functioning. We found that positive effects of tree species diversity are mainly driven by an increase in functional diversity and a modulation of traits related to recolonization and resource usage. The results of our study suggest that increasing tree species diversity could mitigate the effects of intensifying disturbance regimes on ecosystem functioning and improve the robustness of forest carbon storage and the role of forests in climate change mitigation.

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This study was conducted under the European Commission collaborative research project FunDivEUROPE (project no. 265171). R. Seidl acknowledges additional support from a European Commission’s Marie Curie Career Integration Grant (PCIG12-GA-2012-334104). We are grateful to S. Kolb for kindly providing soil data, T. Wutzler for sharing yield table data and M. Liebergesell for giving important insights on the potential natural vegetation in Hainich National Park. We also acknowledge M.J. Lexer for fruitful discussion and administrative support, as well as one anonymous Reviewer and the Editor for helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. The computational results presented here have been achieved in part using the Vienna Scientific Cluster (VSC).

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Correspondence to Mariana Silva Pedro.

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Communicated by Tim Seastedt.

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Silva Pedro, M., Rammer, W. & Seidl, R. Tree species diversity mitigates disturbance impacts on the forest carbon cycle. Oecologia 177, 619–630 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-014-3150-0

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  • Carbon cycle
  • Natural disturbances
  • Forest landscape dynamics
  • Tree diversity
  • iLand model