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Plant diversity and ecosystem multifunctionality peak at intermediate levels of woody cover in global drylands

Plant diversity and ecosystem multifunctionality peak at intermediate levels of woody cover in global drylands

Global Ecology and Biogeography: a Journal of Macroecology 23(12): 1408-1416

ISSN/ISBN: 1466-822X

PMID: 25914607

DOI: 10.1111/geb.12215

The global spread of woody plants into grasslands is predicted to increase over the coming century. While there is general agreement regarding the anthropogenic causes of this phenomenon, its ecological consequences are less certain. We analyzed how woody vegetation of differing cover affects plant diversity (richness and evenness) and multiple ecosystem functions (multifunctionality) in global drylands, and how this changes with aridity. 224 dryland sites from all continents except Antarctica widely differing in their environmental conditions (from arid to dry-subhumid sites) and woody covers (from 0 to 100%). Using a standardized field survey, we measured the cover, richness and evenness of perennial vegetation. At each site, we measured 14 ecosystem functions related to soil fertility and the build-up of nutrient pools. These functions are critical for maintaining ecosystem function in drylands. Species richness and ecosystem multifunctionality were strongly influenced by woody vegetation, with both variables peaking at relative woody covers (RWC) of 41-60%. This relationship shifted with aridity. We observed linear positive effects of RWC in dry-subhumid sites. These positive trends shifted to hump-shaped RWC-diversity and multifunctionality relationships under semiarid environments. Finally, hump-shaped (richness, evenness) or linear negative (multifunctionality) effects of RWC were found under the most arid conditions. Plant diversity and multifunctionality peaked at intermediate levels of woody cover, although this relationship became increasingly positive under wetter environments. This comprehensive study accounts for multiple ecosystem attributes across a range of woody covers and environmental conditions. Our results help us to reconcile contrasting views of woody encroachment found in current literature and can be used to improve predictions of the likely effects of encroachment on biodiversity and ecosystem services.

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Accession: 058561101

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