The Influences of Disturbance Histories and Soil Properties on Aboveground Biomass through Plant Functional Traits in a Tropical Rainforest

Research Highlights: We try to evaluate the relative contribution of environmental factors and functional traits on aboveground biomass in a species rich tropical forest ecosystem after a 40-years natural recovery.

Background and Objectives: Functional traits have a potential to incorporate community dynamics into the impacts of disturbance histories or environmental conditions on ecosystem functioning, but few studies have been conducted to understand these processes.

Materials and Methods: We measured plant functional traits and soil properties in the tropical montane rainforests on Hainan Island, China, which had experienced different disturbance histories (clear cutting, selective logging, and old-growth) 40 years ago. A structural equation model was used to elucidate how disturbance histories and soil factors influence aboveground biomass (AGB) across different size classes (saplings, treelets, and adult trees) through plant functional traits.

Results: The results demonstrated logging stimulated seedling establishment but decreased AGB of adult trees and wood density at community-level (CWM_WD) of sapling and adult tree. Generally, CWM_WD of sapling, treelet, and adult tree decreased linearly with the increasing of specific leaf area at community-level (CWM_SLA) in old-growth forest and these two disturbed forests. Moreover, CWM_SLA explained more variation of CWM_WD with increasing intensity of logging within sapling, treelet, and adult tree. CWM_SLA and CWM_WD not only responded to environmental conditions and disturbance intensity but also affected AGB in all size classes; meanwhile, CWM_SLA was a major driver of AGB. CWM_SLA had a stronger effect on AGB in sapling and treelet classes than on the adult tree class.

Conclusions: Our results suggested that disturbance history and environmental factors could directly or indirectly affect ecosystem functioning through plant functional traits. Functional traits always had a stronger effect on AGB than environmental conditions. Moreover, CWM_SLA is a key trait that can be used to link the relationship between environmental conditions and AGB.

Wensheng Bu, Cancan Zhang, Jihong Huang, Runguo Zang, Yi Ding, Han Xu, Mingxian Lin, & Jinsong Wang