Skip to main content
Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2016

Modes of functional biodiversity control on tree productivity across the European continent

Ratcliffe, Sophia; Dahlgren, Jonas; Wirth, Christian


AimThe relative contribution of community functional diversity and composition to ecosystem functioning is a critical question in ecology in order to enable better predictions of how ecosystems may respond to a changing climate. However, there is little consensus about which modes of functional biodiversity are most important for tree growth at large spatial scales. Here we assessed the relative importance of climate, functional diversity and functional identity (i.e. the community mean values of four key functional traits) for tree growth across the European continent, spanning the northern boreal to the southern Mediterranean forests.LocationFinland, Germany, Sweden, Spain and Wallonia (Belgium).MethodsUsing data from five European national forest inventories we applied a hierarchical linear model to estimate the sensitivity of tree growth to changes in climate, functional diversity and functional identity along a latitudinal gradient.ResultsFunctional diversity was weakly related to tree growth in the temperate and boreal regions and more strongly in the Mediterranean region. In the temperate region, where climate was the most important predictor, functional diversity and identity had a similar importance for tree growth. Functional identity was strongest at the latitudinal extremes of the continent, largely driven by strong changes in the importance of maximum height along the latitudinal gradient.Main conclusionsFunctional diversity is an important driver of tree growth in the Mediterranean region, providing evidence that niche complementarity may be more important for tree growth in water-limited forests. The strong influence of functional identity at the latitudinal extremes indicates the importance of a particular trait composition for tree growth in harsh climates. Furthermore, we speculate that this functional identity signal may reflect a trait-based differentiation of successional stages rather than abiotic filtering due to water or energy limitation.


Climatic gradient; environmental filtering; forest succession; FunDivEUROPE; landscape scale; plant functional traits; tree productivity

Published in

Global Ecology and Biogeography
2016, Volume: 25, number: 3, pages: 251-262

    SLU Authors

    Associated SLU-program


    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG13 Climate action

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Forest Science

    Publication Identifiers


    Permanent link to this page (URI)