Land Degradation and Restoration
Ecological thresholds, which represent points of rapid change in ecological properties, are of major scientific and societal concern. However, very little research has focused on empirically testing the occurrence of thresholds in temperate terrestrial ecosystems. To address this knowledge gap, we tested whether a number of biodiversity, ecosystem functions and ecosystem condition metrics exhibited thresholds in response to a gradient of forest dieback, measured as changes in basal area of living trees relative to areas that lacked recent dieback. The gradient of dieback was sampled using 12 replicate study areas in a temperate forest ecosystem. Our results provide novel evidence of several thresholds in biodiversity (namely species richness of ectomycorrhizal fungi, epiphytic lichen and ground flora); for ecological condition (e.g. sward height, palatable seedling abundance) and a single threshold for ecosystem function (i.e. soil respiration rate). Mechanisms for these thresholds are explored. As climate-induced forest dieback is increasing worldwide, both in scale and speed, these results imply that threshold responses may become increasingly widespread.
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