Plant species richness increases with light availability, but not variability, in temperate forests understorey

Dormann, Carsten F.; Bagnara, Maurizio; Boch, Steffen; Hinderling, Judith; Janeiro-Otero, Andrea; Schäfer, Deborah; Schall, Peter; Hartig, Florian (2020). Plant species richness increases with light availability, but not variability, in temperate forests understorey. BMC ecology, 20(1), p. 43. BioMed Central 10.1186/s12898-020-00311-9

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Background
Temperate forest understorey vegetation poses an excellent study system to investigate whether increases in resource availability lead to an increase in plant species richness. Most sunlight is absorbed by the species-poor tree canopy, making the much more species-rich understorey species inhabit a severely resource-limited habitat. Additionally, the heterogeneity of light availability, resulting from management-moderated tree composition and age structure, may contribute to species coexistence. One would therefore expect that the diversity in the herb layer correlates positively with either the overall light availability, or the light heterogeneity, depending on whether resource availability or heterogeneity are more important drivers of diversity. To test this idea, we assessed variability of light conditions in 75 forest plots across three ecoregions with four different methods.

Results
We correlated these data with vegetation relevés and found light availability to be strongly positively correlated with understorey plant species richness, as well as with understorey cover. Light variability (assessed with two approaches) within plots was positively correlated with transmittance, but did not improve the relationship further, suggesting that the main driver of species richness in this system is the overall resource availability. Two of the three beech-dominated regions exhibited near-identical effects of light transmittance, while the third, featuring pine alongside beech and thus with the longest gradient of transmittance and lowest species richness, displayed a weaker light response.

Conclusions
While site conditions are certainly responsible for the trees selected by foresters, for the resulting forest structure, and for the differences in plant species pools, our results suggest that light transmittance is a strong mediating factor of understorey plant species richness.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)

Division/Institute:

08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS) > Plant Ecology
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS)

UniBE Contributor:

Hinderling, Judith and Schäfer, Deborah

Subjects:

500 Science > 580 Plants (Botany)

ISSN:

1472-6785

Publisher:

BioMed Central

Language:

English

Submitter:

Peter Alfred von Ballmoos-Haas

Date Deposited:

04 Aug 2020 07:47

Last Modified:

09 Aug 2020 02:43

Publisher DOI:

10.1186/s12898-020-00311-9

PubMed ID:

32727542

Uncontrolled Keywords:

understorey vegetation, temperate forest, species richness, light availability

BORIS DOI:

10.7892/boris.145529

URI:

https://boris.unibe.ch/id/eprint/145529

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