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The effect of tree species diversity on fine-root production in a young temperate forest


The phenomenon of overyielding in species-diverse plant communities is mainly attributed to complementary resource use. Vertical niche differentiation belowground might be one potential mechanism for such complementarity. However, most studies that have analysed the diversity/productivity relationship and belowground niche differentiation have done so for fully occupied sites, not very young tree communities that are in the process of occupying belowground space. Here we used a 5–6 year old forest diversity experiment to analyse how fine-root (<2 mm) production in ingrowth cores (0–30 cm) was influenced by tree species identity, as well as the species diversity and richness of tree neighbourhoods. Fine-root production during the first growing season after the installation of ingrowth cores increased slightly with tree species diversity, and four-species combinations produced on average 94.8% more fine-root biomass than monocultures. During the second growing season, fine-root mortality increased with tree species diversity, indicating an increased fine-root turnover in species-rich communities. The initial overyielding was attributable to the response to mixing by the dominant species, Pseudotsuga menziesii and Picea abies, which produced more fine roots in mixtures than could be expected from monocultures. In species-rich neighbourhoods, P. abies allocated more fine roots to the upper soil layer (0–15 cm), whereas P. menziesii produced more fine roots in the deeper layer (15–30 cm) than in species-poor neighbourhoods. Our results indicate that, although there may be no lasting overyielding in the fine-root production of species-diverse tree communities, increasing species diversity can lead to substantial changes in the production, vertical distribution, and turnover of fine roots of individual species.

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We are grateful to Ernst-Detlef Schulze, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, for the permission to use the BIOTREE experiment, and to D. Forrester for his helpful comments on the first manuscript. We thank Renate Nitschke, Parvathi Venugopal, Adam Benneter, Germar Csapek and Alex Plum for assistance in the field and in the laboratory. The BIOTREE site in Kaltenborn is maintained by the Federal Forestry Office Thüringer Wald (Bundesforstamt Thüringer Wald). Pifeng Lei received a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and financial support from the University of Freiburg.

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Correspondence to Pifeng Lei.

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Communicated by Hormoz BassiriRad.

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Lei, P., Scherer-Lorenzen, M. & Bauhus, J. The effect of tree species diversity on fine-root production in a young temperate forest. Oecologia 169, 1105–1115 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-012-2259-2

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  • Species diversity
  • Species richness
  • Fine roots
  • Overyielding
  • Vertical niche differentiation