Species α-diversity promotes but β-diversity restricts aboveground biomass in tropical forests, depending on stand structure and environmental factors

Forest plays a vital role in the global biogeochemical cycles through a high rate of carbon sequestration and harboring biodiversity. However, local species diversity is declining while also becoming increasingly homogenized across communities. Although effects of local biotic processes (e.g., species α-diversity and stand structural heterogeneity) and environmental factors on aboveground biomass (AGB) have been widely tested, there is a huge knowledge gap for the effect of regional biotic processes (i.e., taxonomic and functional β-diversity) in forests. Here, we hypothesized that regional and local environmental factors along with biotic processes jointly regulate AGB through species shifts in tropical forests.

Using piecewise structural equation modeling (pSEM), we linked climatic water availability, soil fertility, stand structural heterogeneity (either tree DBH inequality, height inequality, or stand density), species α-diversity, taxonomic or functional β-diversity (and its two components; β-turnover and β-richness), and AGB across 189 inventory plots in tropical forests of Sri Lanka. Soil fertility and climatic water availability shaped local and regional biotic processes. Stand structural heterogeneity promoted species α-diversity but declined β-diversity (but increased β-taxonomic turnover). Species α-diversity and stand structural heterogeneity promoted AGB whereas taxonomic and functional β-diversity declined (but β-taxonomic turnover increased) AGB.

The relationships of AGB with species α-diversity and β-diversity varied from significant to nonsignificant positive depending on the specific combinations of stand structural heterogeneity metrics used. This study shows that local biotic processes could increase AGB due to the local and regional niche complementarity effect whereas the regional biotic processes could restrict AGB due to the regional selection or functional redundancy effect under favorable environmental conditions. We argue that biotic homogenization, as well as drought conditions, may have strong divergent impacts on forest functions and that the impacts of tree diversity loss may greatly reduce carbon sequestration.

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