Insect diversity and forest productivity

Forests are home to more than 80% of the land’s biodiversity and are a “kingdom” for a wide variety of insects. So, what is the link between insect diversity and forest productivity?

On April 27, the team of Mark Ping, a researcher at the Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, published a new study in Nature Ecology and Evolution. They found that in forest ecosystems, increasing tree species diversity not only directly improved forest productivity, but also indirectly improved forest productivity by promoting insect diversity and the downward control effect of natural predators on plant-eating insects.

BEF-China Subtropical Forest Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function Experiment A (Photo: Li Shan), Lepidopteran larvae that feed on plant leaves (Photo: Andreas Schuldt), Moths that prey on latent larvae (Photo: Chen Huayan) Photo courtesy of plants

Unravel the mystery of the relationship between insect diversity and forest productivity

Forest biodiversity is key to global biodiversity conservation, but its loss due to human activities and climate change is accelerating, posing a serious threat to ecosystem functioning. Although there are studies on the contribution of species diversity to forest productivity, most of them focus only on plant diversity and lack verification of biodiversity at other trophic levels.

Insects are the most diverse and abundant order in the animal kingdom, with almost all types of habitats. They play an irreplaceable role in global ecosystems through their multiple interactions with plants.

Subtropical forests are rich in plant diversity and are one of the most important habitats for insects. However, little has been reported whether insect diversity affects forest ecosystem function and how this impact changes with tree species diversity.

In this regard, Ma Ping’s team used the large-scale forest biodiversity and ecosystem function experiment (BEF-China, Dexing, Jiangxi) established in subtropical regions of China to evaluate the role of tree species diversity on different insect taxa and its impact on forest productivity, so as to determine the regulatory mechanism of insect diversity on tree species diversity and forest productivity relationship.

They found that tree species diversity showed a consistent promotion of species diversity and abundance across all insect taxa, and that the effect diminished with increasing trophic levels of insect taxa.

Through further research, Makping’s team found that increasing tree species diversity promotes natural enemy insect diversity, which intensifies the predation and parasitism of natural enemies on plant-eating insects, which in turn reduces their feeding and consumption of plant leaves, and ultimately promotes the improvement of forest productivity.

Liu Xiaojuan, one of the corresponding authors of the paper and a researcher at the Institute of Botany of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told China Science News that previous studies based on large-scale control experiments in Jena grasslands in Germany found that plant diversity can promote insect diversity, but did not detect the downward control effect of natural enemies, “This study confirms that there is a strong natural enemy control effect in forest ecosystems, which has a key regulatory effect on forest productivity.” ”

“Higher” platform

At present, there are 29 forest diversity field experimental sites around the world, which play an important role in understanding the relationship between forest biodiversity and ecosystems and solving more important scientific questions.

In 2009, scientists from China, Germany and Switzerland established the “China Subtropical Forest Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function Experiment (BEF-China)” platform in Xingangshan Town, Dexing City, Jiangxi Province, and planted more than 300,000 trees, including 42 species of trees and 18 kinds of shrubs, in Xingshan Town, Dexing City, Jiangxi Province.

Unlike other experimental forest diversity plots, BEF-China plots cover more complex terrain, have the largest species banks, and their highest diversity plots are closer to natural forests. As the chairman of the BEF-China platform, Mark Ping told China Science News that the BEF-China platform is not only the world’s largest forest biodiversity and ecosystem function experiment, but also an international platform for open and long-term ecological research.

Relying on the BEF-China platform, more than 20 research teams from all over the world carry out scientific research every year, and more than 200 scientific research papers have been produced so far.

As the leader of the management team of BEF-China platform, Liu Xiaojuan pointed out that the protection and restoration of mixed forests with high tree species diversity can achieve the win-win goal of improving multitrophic biodiversity and forest ecosystem functions, which is of great significance for guiding the public to understand the protection of forest biodiversity, plants, animals and their associated microorganisms. (Source: China Science News, Tian Ruiying)

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