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University of Edinburgh (2022)

Biodiversity : ecosystem function relationships in southern African woodlands

Godlee, John L.

Titre : Biodiversity : ecosystem function relationships in southern African woodlands

Auteur Godlee, John L.

Université de soutenance : University of Edinburgh

Grade : PhD Doctor of Philosophy 2022

A broad corpus of previous research has sought to understand the role of biodiversity as a driver of ecosystem structure and function. Although theory suggests that increased biodiversity should increase ecosystem function by niche complementarity among co-existing species, in natural systems wide variation in the biodiversity effect exists among vegetation types and along environmental gradients. In southern African woodlands and savannas, which experience disturbance by fire and herbivory, drought and extreme temperatures, it is unclear whether positive biodiversity effects should occur. In this thesis, I explore the ecology of southern African woodlands through the lens of the biodiversity-ecosystem function relationship, to improve our understanding of the role of tree diversity as a mediator of ecosystem function, its interactions with abiotic environment, and its effect on woodland structure. In temperate and wet tropical forests, where the majority of biodiversity-ecosystem function studies in natural woody vegetation have been conducted, the positive effect of niche complementarity hinges on the condition that conspecific competition is the limiting factor to ecosystem function. In highly disturbed and environmentally stressed systems however, this may not hold true. I conducted a regional study investigating the role of tree species diversity and structural diversity as mediators of woody biomass, using a plot network of 1235 plots spanning wide climatic and biogeographic gradients across southern Africa. Using Structural Equation Modelling, I determined that tree species diversity has a positive effect on biomass, operating mostly via its effect on structural diversity. I found that biodiversity itself increases with water availability, and that positive biodiversity effects only arise under sufficiently high stem density. To further understand the ecological mechanisms which drive positive biodiversity-productivity relationships, I explored the effects of tree species diversity and woodland demographic structure on patterns of land-surface phenology. I combined a dense plot-based tree census dataset across multiple deciduous Zambian woodland types with remotely sensed measures of greenness, to understand drivers of variation in pre-rain green-up, growing season length and productivity. I found that pre-rain green-up occurred earlier in more diverse sites, across all woodland types, while in non-miombo woodlands, species richness also increased post-rain senescence lag and season length.


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