3 years ago

Environment and past land use together predict functional diversity in a temperate forest

Meghna Krishnadas, Noelle G. Beckman, Juan Carlos Peñagos Zuluaga, Yan Zhu, James Whitacre, John W. Wenzel, Simon A. Queenborough, Liza S. Comita


Environment and human land use both shape forest composition. Abiotic conditions sift tree species from a regional pool via functional traits that influence species’ suitability to the local environment. In addition, human land use can modify species distributions and change functional diversity of forests. However, it is unclear how environment and land use simultaneously shape functional diversity of tree communities. Land‐use legacies are especially prominent in temperate forest landscapes that have been extensively modified by humans in the last few centuries. Across a 900‐ha temperate deciduous forest in the northeastern United States, comprising a mosaic of different‐aged stands due to past human land use, we used four key functional traits—maximum height, rooting depth, wood density, and seed mass—to examine how multiple environmental and land‐use variables influenced species distributions and functional diversity. We sampled ~40,000 trees >8 cm DBH within 485 plots totaling 137 ha. Species within plots were more functionally similar than expected by chance when we estimated functional diversity using all traits together (multi‐trait), and to a lesser degree, with each trait separately. Multi‐trait functional diversity was most strongly correlated with distance from the perennial stream, elevation, slope, and forest age. Environmental and land‐use predictors varied in their correlation with functional diversities of the four individual traits. Landscape‐wide change in abundances of individual species also correlated with both environment and land‐use variables, but magnitudes of trait–environment interactions were generally stronger than trait interactions with land use. These findings can be applied for restoration and assisted regeneration of human‐modified temperate forests by using traits to predict which tree species would establish well in relation to land‐use history, topography, and soil conditions.

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