Modes of functional biodiversity control on tree productivity across the European continent

TitleModes of functional biodiversity control on tree productivity across the European continent
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsRatcliffe S, Liebergesell M, Benito PRuiz, González JMadrigal, Castañeda JMMuñoz, Kändler G, Lehtonen A, Dahlgren J, Kattge J, Peñuelas J, Zavala MÁngel, Wirth C
JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
Pagination251 - 262
Date Published2016///
Keywordsclimatic gradient, correspondence, environmental filtering, Forest succession, FunDivEUROPE, landscape scale, plant functional traits, sophia ratcliffe, systematic, tree productivity


The relative contribution of community functional diversity and composition to ecosystem functioning is a critical question in ecology in order to enable better predictions of how ecosystems may respond to a changing climate. However there is little consensus of which modes of functional biodiversity are most important for tree growth at large spatial scales. Here we assessed the relative importance of climate, functional diversity and functional identity (i.e. the community mean values of four key functional traits) for tree growth across the European continent, spanning the northern boreal to the southern Mediterranean forests.


Finland, Germany, Sweden, Spain and Wallonia (Belgium)


Using data from five European National Forest Inventories we applied a hierarchical linear model to estimate the sensitivity of tree growth to changes in climate, functional diversity and functional identity along a latitudinal gradient.


Functional diversity was weakly related to tree growth in the temperate and boreal regions and more strongly in the Mediterranean region. In the temperate region, where climate was the most important predictor, functional diversity and identity had a similar importance for tree growth. Functional identity was strongest at the latitudinal extremes of the continent, largely driven by strong changes in the importance of maximum height along the latitudinal gradient.

Main conclusions

Functional diversity was an important driver of tree growth in the Mediterranean region, providing evidence that niche complementarity may be more important for tree growth in water-limited forests. The strong influence of functional identity at the latitudinal extremes indicates the importance of a particular trait composition for tree growth in harsh climates. Furthermore, we speculate that this functional identity signal may reflect a trait-based differentiation of successional stages rather than abiotic filtering due to water or energy limitation.

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