Contrasting effects of tree diversity on young tree growth and resistance to insect herbivores across three biodiversity experiments

J. Haase, B. Castagneyrol, JHC Cornelissen, J Ghazoul, J Kattge, Julia Koricheva, M Scherer-Lorenzen, Simon Morath, H Jactel

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Tree diversity is an important driver of forest ecosystem functioning, hypothesised to enhance tree growth and resistance to herbivores. To test this, we assessed the relative importance of tree species richness and functional diversity on tree height growth and insect herbivore damage across three tree diversity experiments in Finland, France and Germany, established within the last fifteen years. These experiments encompass species richness gradients from monocultures up to five species mixtures, with compositions drawn from a pool of eleven tree species. Tree height growth and total insect herbivory were evaluated at both the tree species and forest plot scales.

Trees in mixtures tended to grow taller, but on average received more insect herbivory relative to monocultures. Gradients of tree species richness or functional diversity had only weak impact on the magnitude of these effects. Community weighted means of specific leaf area alone captured diversity effects on tree height growth, with stronger positive effects of diversity in mixtures with high community SLA. Tree species-specific responses were highly variable. No species significantly benefited both in terms of increased growth and reduced herbivory when grown in mixtures. More species showed positive height growth responses in mixed assemblages, but only the two exotic conifers experienced associational resistance to herbivores.

This large-scale study shows that tree height growth in young forest plantations tends to be higher in species mixtures than in monocultures, but incremental increases in functional diversity have, at best, weak marginal growth benefits. Moreover, there appear to be contrasting effects at forest plot versus individual species scales. Thus, while some species show lower herbivore damage in mixtures, this is not a consistent trend and contrasts the higher overall damage in mixtures observed at the forest plot scale. To improve both tree growth and resistance to herbivores in tree species mixtures seems therefore challenging.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1674-1685
Number of pages12
Issue number12
Early online date8 Apr 2015
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015

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