Research ArticleFOREST ECOLOGY

Positive biodiversity-productivity relationship predominant in global forests

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Science  14 Oct 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6309, aaf8957
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf8957

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Global biodiversity and productivity

The relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem productivity has been explored in detail in herbaceous vegetation, but patterns in forests are far less well understood. Liang et al. have amassed a global forest data set from >770,000 sample plots in 44 countries. A positive and consistent relationship can be discerned between tree diversity and ecosystem productivity at landscape, country, and ecoregion scales. On average, a 10% loss in biodiversity leads to a 3% loss in productivity. This means that the economic value of maintaining biodiversity for the sake of global forest productivity is more than fivefold greater than global conservation costs.

Science, this issue p. 196

Structured Abstract

INTRODUCTION

The biodiversity-productivity relationship (BPR; the effect of biodiversity on ecosystem productivity) is foundational to our understanding of the global extinction crisis and its impacts on the functioning of natural ecosystems. The BPR has been a prominent research topic within ecology in recent decades, but it is only recently that we have begun to develop a global perspective.

RATIONALE

Forests are the most important global repositories of terrestrial biodiversity, but deforestation, forest degradation, climate change, and other factors are threatening approximately one half of tree species worldwide. Although there have been substantial efforts to strengthen the preservation and sustainable use of forest biodiversity throughout the globe, the consequences of this diversity loss pose a major uncertainty for ongoing international forest management and conservation efforts. The forest BPR represents a critical missing link for accurate valuation of global biodiversity and successful integration of biological conservation and socioeconomic development. Until now, there have been limited tree-based diversity experiments, and the forest BPR has only been explored within regional-scale observational studies. Thus, the strength and spatial variability of this relationship remains unexplored at a global scale.

RESULTS

We explored the effect of tree species richness on tree volume productivity at the global scale using repeated forest inventories from 777,126 permanent sample plots in 44 countries containing more than 30 million trees from 8737 species spanning most of the global terrestrial biomes. Our findings reveal a consistent positive concave-down effect of biodiversity on forest productivity across the world, showing that a continued biodiversity loss would result in an accelerating decline in forest productivity worldwide.

The BPR shows considerable geospatial variation across the world. The same percentage of biodiversity loss would lead to a greater relative (that is, percentage) productivity decline in the boreal forests of North America, Northeastern Europe, Central Siberia, East Asia, and scattered regions of South-central Africa and South-central Asia. In the Amazon, West and Southeastern Africa, Southern China, Myanmar, Nepal, and the Malay Archipelago, however, the same percentage of biodiversity loss would lead to greater absolute productivity decline.

CONCLUSION

Our findings highlight the negative effect of biodiversity loss on forest productivity and the potential benefits from the transition of monocultures to mixed-species stands in forestry practices. The BPR we discover across forest ecosystems worldwide corresponds well with recent theoretical advances, as well as with experimental and observational studies on forest and nonforest ecosystems. On the basis of this relationship, the ongoing species loss in forest ecosystems worldwide could substantially reduce forest productivity and thereby forest carbon absorption rate to compromise the global forest carbon sink. We further estimate that the economic value of biodiversity in maintaining commercial forest productivity alone is $166 billion to $490 billion per year. Although representing only a small percentage of the total value of biodiversity, this value is two to six times as much as it would cost to effectively implement conservation globally. These results highlight the necessity to reassess biodiversity valuation and the potential benefits of integrating and promoting biological conservation in forest resource management and forestry practices worldwide.

Global effect of tree species diversity on forest productivity.

Ground-sourced data from 777,126 global forest biodiversity permanent sample plots (dark blue dots, left), which cover a substantial portion of the global forest extent (white), reveal a consistent positive and concave-down biodiversity-productivity relationship across forests worldwide (red line with pink bands representing 95% confidence interval, right).

Abstract

The biodiversity-productivity relationship (BPR) is foundational to our understanding of the global extinction crisis and its impacts on ecosystem functioning. Understanding BPR is critical for the accurate valuation and effective conservation of biodiversity. Using ground-sourced data from 777,126 permanent plots, spanning 44 countries and most terrestrial biomes, we reveal a globally consistent positive concave-down BPR, showing that continued biodiversity loss would result in an accelerating decline in forest productivity worldwide. The value of biodiversity in maintaining commercial forest productivity alone—US$166 billion to 490 billion per year according to our estimation—is more than twice what it would cost to implement effective global conservation. This highlights the need for a worldwide reassessment of biodiversity values, forest management strategies, and conservation priorities.

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