Do functional identity and divergence promote aboveground carbon differently in tropical semi-arid forests and savannas?

Sylvanus Mensah*, Fons van der Plas, Florent Noulèkoun

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Various studies have shown that plant species richness can promote ecosystem functions such as biomass storage. However, it is less well known whether this is mostly driven by the dominance of a few species and their associated traits (functional identity), or by complementarity among species that highly vary in their traits (functional diversity). The relative contribution of functional diversity and functional identity on biomass and carbon storage may in part depend on the type of functional traits that are considered, and on ecosystem type. Here, we used forest inventory data from West African semi-arid environments, and functional traits (wood density and tree maximum height) to examine the effects of functional trait identity (FI or community weighted mean; CWM) and diversity (FD or single functional divergence; FDvar) on aboveground carbon (AGC) storage in both forests and savannas. We fitted simple linear and structural equation models to test the direct and indirect effects of functional traits on AGC, while accounting for potential effects of vegetation stand structure such as stand density and basal area. When evaluated independently, CWM of tree maximum height and FDvar of wood density correlated positively with AGC, in both forests and savannas, whereas species richness was unrelated to AGC. However, structural equation models indicated different mechanisms by which these biodiversity components drove AGC in forests and savannas. In forests, species richness had an indirect, positive effect on AGC via basal area, but also an indirect, negative effect, through a reduction in CWM of maximum height. In savannas, species richness had a direct, negative effect on AGC, while both CWM of maximum height (through an increase in basal area) and FDvar of wood density had positive effects. Our study suggests that integrative models are crucial for understanding the effects of species richness, functional trait diversity, and identity on AGC across forests. Furthermore, our study shows that relationships between biodiversity and AGC differ among ecosystem types. In both forests and savannas, FI played an important role, as AGC was maximized in communities dominated by species with a high maximum height. However, only in savannas a high FD additionally promoted AGC.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere03563
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jun 2021


  • community weighted mean
  • functional diversity
  • maximum plant height
  • semi-arid
  • tree biomass carbon


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