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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

Structural diversity and tree density drives variation in the biodiversity-ecosystem function relationship of woodlands and savannas

Godlee, John L.; Ryan, Casey M.; Bauman, David; Bowers, Samuel J.; Carreiras, Joao M. B.; Chisingui, Antonio Valter; Cromsigt, Joris P. G. M.; Druce, Dave J.; Finckh, Manfred; Goncalves, Francisco Maiato; Holdo, Ricardo M.; Makungwa, Steve; McNicol, Iain M.; Mitchard, Edward T. A.; Muchawona, Anderson; Revermann, Rasmus; Ribeiro, Natasha Sofia; Siampale, Abel; Syampungani, Stephen; Tchamba, Jose Joao;
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Positive biodiversity-ecosystem function relationships (BEFRs) have been widely documented, but it is unclear if BEFRs should be expected in disturbance-driven systems. Disturbance may limit competition and niche differentiation, which are frequently posited to underlie BEFRs. We provide the first exploration of the relationship between tree species diversity and biomass, one measure of ecosystem function, across southern African woodlands and savannas, an ecological system rife with disturbance from fire, herbivores and humans.We used > 1000 vegetation plots distributed across 10 southern African countries and structural equation modelling to determine the relationship between tree species diversity and above-ground woody biomass, accounting for interacting effects of resource availability, disturbance by fire, tree stem density and vegetation type.We found positive effects of tree species diversity on above-ground biomass, operating via increased structural diversity. The observed BEFR was highly dependent on organismal density, with a minimum threshold of c. 180 mature stems ha(-1). We found that water availability mainly affects biomass indirectly, via increasing species diversity.The study underlines the close association between tree diversity, ecosystem structure, environment and function in highly disturbed savannas and woodlands. We suggest that tree diversity is an under-appreciated determinant of wooded ecosystem structure and function.


biodiversity; biomass; ecosystem function; forest structure; miombo; savanna; structural equation modelling; woodland

Published in

New Phytologist
2021, volume: 232, number: 2, pages: 579-594
Publisher: WILEY

Authors' information

Godlee, John L.
University of Edinburgh
Ryan, Casey M.
University of Edinburgh
Bauman, David
University of Oxford
Bauman, David
Universite Libre de Bruxelles
Bowers, Samuel J.
University of Edinburgh
Carreiras, Joao M. B.
University of Sheffield
Chisingui, Antonio Valter
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Wildlife, Fish and Environmental Studies
Nelson Mandela University
Utrecht University
Druce, Dave J.
University of Kwazulu Natal
Finckh, Manfred
University of Hamburg
Goncalves, Francisco Maiato
Holdo, Ricardo M.
University of Georgia
Makungwa, Steve
Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources
McNicol, Iain M.
University of Edinburgh
Mitchard, Edward T. A.
University of Edinburgh
Muchawona, Anderson
Forest Res Ctr
Revermann, Rasmus
University of Hamburg
Ribeiro, Natasha Sofia
Eduardo Mondlane University
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UKÄ Subject classification

Forest Science

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