Press release: Bugs in species-rich forests mean improved productivity
No. 75 - 09.05.2023
Researchers including Göttingen University find first evidence of significance of arthropod diversity
Forests are home to 80% of the world’s plant and animal diversity and are vital for global conservation. However, biodiversity in forests is under serious threat from human activity and climate change. An international research team including the University of Göttingen has now revealed that forests with higher tree species richness tend to also have a greater diversity of spiders, millipedes, insects and other arthropods. In addition, the study shows that these animals play an important role in how tree diversity promotes forest productivity, because plant-eating arthropods are more effectively suppressed by other arthropods in forests with more tree species. The results were published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.
The researchers collected and analysed five years of data about arthropods living on trees, together with information about tree growth, in a large forest experiment in southeast China. They divided the arthropods into plant-eaters, hunters and parasitoids (creatures whose larvae live inside a host usually killing it). “The wealth of data on so many different groups of organisms, assembled in the world’s largest tree diversity experiment, allowed us to take a closer look into how important biodiversity is for forest ecosystems,” says Professor Andreas Schuldt, a biodiversity researcher from the University of Göttingen, who was involved in the assessment of arthropods and their ecological effects in the experiment.
The researchers show that the effects of increased tree species richness are consistently positive for arthropod diversity and abundance of all types of arthropods. Secondly, this study shows that increasing tree diversity can enhance the effect of both arthropod hunters and parasitoids in controlling plant-eating arthropods, thereby contributing to increased forest productivity. This research is the first to show the significance of arthropod diversity in enhancing forest productivity. Schuldt explains: “Species-rich groups, such as arthropods, are declining dramatically due to the degradation of forests and loss of plant diversity. Yet most studies on biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationships have focused solely on plant diversity, neglecting the diversity impact of life across the food chain. Given the importance of forests to global biodiversity, it is vital to understand these interconnections and take action to protect them.”
Professor Xiaojuan Liu, leader of the BEF-China experiment says, “This underscores the critical role of conservation efforts to promote and preserve biodiversity in forests”. Dr Yi Li, postdoctoral researcher at IBCAS in Beijing and first author adds: “Optimizing forest management for increased carbon capture can be more effective when the diversity of arthropods is promoted together with that of trees.”
Original publication: Yi Li et al. Multitrophic arthropod diversity mediates tree diversity effects on primary productivity. Nature Ecology & Evolution. 2023. Doi: 10.1038/s41559-023-02049-1
Professor Andreas Schuldt
University of Göttingen
Faculty of Forest Sciences and Forest Ecology
Forest Nature Conservation Group
Tel: +49 (0)551 39-24486