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Functional composition of plant communities mediates biomass effects on ecosystem service recovery across an experimental dryland restoration network

Citation

Butterfield, Bradley; Balazs, Kathleen; Munson, Seth (2022), Functional composition of plant communities mediates biomass effects on ecosystem service recovery across an experimental dryland restoration network, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.v6wwpzgzs

Abstract

Land degradation can result in a loss of critical ecosystem services that we often seek to restore through re-establishment of desired plant communities. Trait-based approaches have the potential to target specific ecosystem services based on associations between the functional composition of plant communities and ecosystem properties that serve as indicators of those services. The effect of functional composition on ecosystem recovery may depend on the amount of restored plant biomass, itself a supporting service frequently targeted in restoration efforts. Yet, interactions between functional composition and biomass are not formally integrated into trait-based analytical frameworks. We tested the hypothesis that functional composition of plant communities both drives, and interacts with, biomass production to influence indicators of soil functioning and weed suppression across a network of degraded dryland restoration experiments. This networked approach allowed us to identify generalized effects of functional composition on ecosystem recovery across a range of dryland climate conditions. Climate had a substantial effect on ecosystem indicators, with weed cover and soil surface stability increasing in more arid climates, water infiltration increasing with precipitation, and aggregate structure increasing with less freezing. After accounting for climate effects across study sites, we found significant effects of community-weighted mean (CWM) trait values on biomass, particularly a positive effect of leaf carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, and of CWM-biomass interactions on other ecosystem indicators. Cover of exotic species was reduced in restored communities with a combination of low leaf dry matter content and high biomass, soil water infiltration increased with lower specific root length and high biomass, and soil aggregate stability increased with higher root dry matter content and high biomass, among other effects. Functional diversity had no significant effects on any ecosystem indicators. Synthesis: The influence of community functional composition on ecosystem properties increases with community biomass, particularly in disturbed or low productivity systems. This suggests that active management should not only focus on trait values that optimize individual ecosystem indicators, but also how those functional strategies are complementary or counter to those that increase biomass.

Funding

United states bureau of land management