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Forest biodiversity, relationships to structural and functional attributes, and stability in New England forests

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Forest Ecosystems


Background: Forest biodiversity is the foundation of many ecosystem services, and the effect of biodiversity on ecosystem functioning and processes (BEF) has been a central issue in biodiversity studies. Although many hypotheses have been developed to interpret global gradients of biodiversity, there has not been complete agreement on mechanisms controlling biodiversity patterns and distributions. Differences may be due to limited observation data and inconsistencies of spatial scales in analysis. Methods: In this study, we take advantage of USDA Forest Service forest inventory and analysis (FIA) data for exploring regional forest biodiversity and BEF in New England forests. The FIA data provide detailed information of sampled plots and trees for the region, including 6000 FIA plots and more than 33,000 individual trees. Biodiversity models were used to analyze the data. Results: Tree species diversity increases from the north to the south at a rate about 2–3 species per latitudinal degree. Tree species diversity is better predicted by tree height than forest age or biomass. Very different distribution patterns of two common maple species, sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and red maple (Acer rubrum), highlight the vulnerability of sugar maple and its potential replacement by red maple on New England landscapes. Red maple generally already outperforms sugar maple, and will likely and continuously benefit from a changing climate in New England. Conclusions: We conclude that forest structure (height) and resources (biomass) are more likely foundational characteristics supporting biodiversity rather than biodiversity determining forest productivity and/or biomass. The potential replacement of red maple for sugar maple in the New England areas could affect biodiversity and stability of forest ecosystem functioning because sugar maple plays important ecological roles distinct from red maple that are beneficial to other tree species in northern hardwood forests. Such a change may not affect forest resilience in terms of forest productivity and biomass as these are similar in red maple and sugar maple, however, it would almost certainly alter forest structure across the landscape.


Forest biodiversity; Biodiversity effect on function (BEF); New England; Forest inventory data; Species diversity; Latitudinal diversity gradient; Forest stability of ecosystem functioning; Forest resilience; Sugar maple; Red maple; Changing climate


Pan, Yude; McCullough, Kevin; Hollinger, David Y. 2018. Forest biodiversity, relationships to structural and functional attributes, and stability in New England forests. Forest Ecosystems. 5(1): 179-.

Last updated on: August 22, 2018