Drivers of tree carbon storage in subtropical forests

Yin Li, Weikai Bao, Frans Bongers, Bin Chen, Guoke Chen, Ke Guo, Mingxi Jiang, Jiangshan Lai, Dunmei Lin, Chunjiang Liu, Xiaojuan Liu, Yi Liu, Xiangcheng Mi, Xingjun Tian, Xihua Wang, Wubing Xu, Junhua Yan, Bo Yang, Yuanrun Zheng, Keping Ma*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Tropical and subtropical forest ecosystems play an important role in the global carbon regulation. Despite increasing evidence for effects of biodiversity (species diversity, functional diversity and functional dominance), stand structural attributes, stand age and environmental conditions (climate and topography) on tree carbon storage, the relative importance of these drivers at large scale is poorly understood. It is also still unclear whether biodiversity effects on tree carbon storage work through niche complementarity (i.e. increased tree carbon storage due to interspecific resource partitioning) or through the mass-ratio effect (tree carbon storage regulated by dominant traits within communities). Here we analyze tree carbon storage and its drivers using data of 480 plots sampled across subtropical forests in China. We use multiple regression models to test the relative effects of biodiversity, stand structural attributes, stand age and environmental conditions on tree carbon storage, and use a partial least squares path model to test how these variables directly and/or indirectly affect tree carbon storage. Our results show that tree carbon storage is most strongly affected by stand age, followed by climate, biodiversity and stand structural attributes. Stand age and climate had both direct and indirect (through species diversity, functional dominance and stand structural attributes) effects. We find that tree carbon storage correlates with both species diversity and functional dominance after stand age and environmental drivers are accounted for. Our results suggest that niche complementarity and the mass-ratio effect, not necessarily mutually exclusive, both play a role in maintaining ecosystem functioning. Our results further indicate that biodiversity conservation might be an effective way for enhancing tree carbon storage in natural, species-rich forest ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)684-693
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019


  • Biodiversity-ecosystem function
  • Environmental conditions
  • Mass-ratio effect
  • Niche complementarity
  • Stand age
  • Stand structure

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