Tree Diversity Drives Forest Stand Resistance to Natural Disturbances


Purpose of review

Forests are frequently exposed to natural disturbances, which are likely to increase with global change, and may jeopardize the delivery of ecosystem services. Mixed-species forests have often been shown to be more productive than monocultures, but it is unclear whether this results from mixed stands being in part more resistant to various biotic and abiotic disturbance factors. This review investigates the relationships between tree diversity and stand resistance to natural disturbances and explores the ecological mechanisms behind the observed relationships.

Recent findings

Mixed forests appear to be more resistant than monocultures to small mammalian herbivores, soil-borne fungal diseases and specialized insect herbivores. Admixing broadleaves to conifers also increases the resistance to fire and windstorms when compared to pure conifer stands. However, mixed forests may be more affected by drought depending on the species in the mixture.


Overall, our findings suggest that mixed forests are more resistant to natural disturbances that are relatively small-scale and selective in their effect. However, benefits provided by mixtures are less evident for larger-scale disturbances. Higher tree diversity translates into increased resistance to disturbances as a result of ecological trait complementarity among species, reduction of fuel and food resources for herbivores, enhancement of diversion or disruption processes, and multi-trophic interactions such as predation or symbiosis.

To promote resistance, the selection of tree species with different functional characteristics appears more important than increasing only the number of species in the stand. Trees with different levels of susceptibility to different hazards should be intermixed in order to reduce the amount of exposed resources and to generate barriers against contagion.

However, more research is needed to further improve associational resistance in mixed forests, through a better understanding of the most relevant spatial and temporal scales of species interactions and to optimize the overall provision of ecosystem services.

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This review has been conducted with the support of the IUFRO (International Union of Forest Research Organizations) Task Force on ‘Biodiversity contribution to ecosystem services in managed forests’. The ideas developed in this review have also been discussed during a workshop organized by J. Bauhus within the frame of the FunDivEUROPE project, funded by the European Union Seventh Framework Program (FP7/2007-2013), under the grant agreement no. 265171. We are grateful to the Ramon y Cajal Program from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Education and the CERCA Programme of the Generalitat de Catalunya for supporting the work of Dr. Gonzalez-Olabarria. Contributions by EB were supported by MBIE core funding (C04X1104) to Scion and the ‘Better Border Biosecurity’ collaboration (, and MBIE contestable funding (C09X1307) to the ‘BEST’ programme. J. Boberg was supported by Future Forests—a multi-disciplinary research program supported by the Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research (MISTRA).

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Correspondence to Hervé Jactel.

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Drs Jactel, Bauhus, Bonal, Castagneyrol, Gardiner, Gonzalez-Olabarria, Koricheva, Meurisse and Brockerhoff declare no conflicts of interests.

Boberg declares compensation from Future Forests, a research program supported by the Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research [MISTRA] in Sweden.

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This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

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This article is part of the Topical Collection on Forest Entomology

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Jactel, H., Bauhus, J., Boberg, J. et al. Tree Diversity Drives Forest Stand Resistance to Natural Disturbances. Curr Forestry Rep 3, 223–243 (2017).

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  • Associational resistance
  • Associational susceptibility
  • Biodiversity
  • Drought
  • Ecosystem services
  • Fire
  • Fungal pathogens
  • Insect herbivores
  • Invasive species
  • Mammalian browsers
  • Wind