Exploring Interrelationships Between Plant Biodiversity, Forest Structure, and Climate

Plant biodiversity is one of the key indicators of ecosystem health and productivity. It is also difficult to estimate at large scales. Forest structure has increasingly been recognized as a way to approximate patterns in the distribution of biodiversity. But how well do biodiversity-structure relationships hold up across climate zones?

“If we look at biodiversity-structure relationships across regions, we see noticeable differences between, say, Washington state and Florida. But why should that be? What is driving those disparities? By quantifying how climate differs between regions, we can start to develop a three-way relationship between climate, biodiversity and forest structure that lets us explore how climate may be mediating the relationship between the other two.”

Chris Hakkenberg

new study by Drs. Christopher R. Hakkenberg and Scott J. Goetz, recently published in Global Ecology and Biogeography, uses lidar and field observations from the NEON program to explore how climate mediates biodiversity-structure relationships (BSRs) across the United States. Their findings could help improve biodiversity maps created with remote sensing data and better predict the impact of habitat degradation and climate change on biodiversity across disparate regions.

NEON forest and woodland sites span continuous ecoclimatic gradients across the USA. Featured sites consist of ≥ 10 plots with ≥ 30% canopy cover, and are depicted by plot-level mean vascular plant species richness (SRplant) and tree species richness (SRtree). Different biodiversity – forest structure relationships (BSRs) across the USA are mediated in part by variance in the underlying ecoclimatic conditions at each site. These continuous ecoclimatic gradients provide a means to explicitly quantify what may be driving BSRs, and are represented in the figure using a climatic stress–energy–seasonality framework: with aridity, mean annual temperature (MAT) and precipitation seasonality (Pseas) represented as unique red–green–blue (RGB) color combinations, respectively. Color gradients use histogram equalization to maximize contrast and are intended solely to be heuristic and demonstrative. Figure credit: Chris Hakkenberg

“The big takeaway here is that climatic context plays a substantial role in how forest structure relates to plant diversity”

Chris Hakkenberg

Read a full write up about Chris and Scott’s work at NEON’s website, here.

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