Combining multiple investigative approaches to unravel functional responses to global change in the understorey of temperate forests

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  • Dries Landuyt
  • Michael P. Perring
  • Haben Blondeel
  • Emiel De Lombaerde
  • Leen Depauw
  • Eline Lorer
  • Sybryn L. Maes
  • Lander Baeten
  • Laurent Bergès
  • Markus Bernhardt-Römermann
  • Guntis Brūmelis
  • Jörg Brunet
  • Markéta Chudomelová
  • Janusz Czerepko
  • Guillaume Decocq
  • Jan den Ouden
  • Pieter De Frenne
  • Thomas Dirnböck
  • Tomasz Durak
  • Radosław Gawryś
  • Radim Hédl
  • Steffi Heinrichs
  • Thilo Heinken
  • Bogdan Jaroszewicz
  • Keith Kirby
  • Martin Kopecký
  • František Máliš
  • Martin Macek
  • Fraser J.G. Mitchell
  • Tobias Naaf
  • Petr Petřík
  • Kamila Reczynska
  • Wolfgang Schmidt
  • Tibor Standovár
  • Krzysztof Swierkosz
  • Simon M. Smart
  • Hans Van Calster
  • Ondrej Vild
  • Donald M. Waller
  • Monika Wulf
  • Kris Verheyen

Plant communities are being exposed to changing environmental conditions all around the globe, leading to alterations in plant diversity, community composition, and ecosystem functioning. For herbaceous understorey communities in temperate forests, responses to global change are postulated to be complex, due to the presence of a tree layer that modulates understorey responses to external pressures such as climate change and changes in atmospheric nitrogen deposition rates. Multiple investigative approaches have been put forward as tools to detect, quantify and predict understorey responses to these global-change drivers, including, among others, distributed resurvey studies and manipulative experiments. These investigative approaches are generally designed and reported upon in isolation, while integration across investigative approaches is rarely considered. In this study, we integrate three investigative approaches (two complementary resurvey approaches and one experimental approach) to investigate how climate warming and changes in nitrogen deposition affect the functional composition of the understorey and how functional responses in the understorey are modulated by canopy disturbance, that is, changes in overstorey canopy openness over time. Our resurvey data reveal that most changes in understorey functional characteristics represent responses to changes in canopy openness with shifts in macroclimate temperature and aerial nitrogen deposition playing secondary roles. Contrary to expectations, we found little evidence that these drivers interact. In addition, experimental findings deviated from the observational findings, suggesting that the forces driving understorey change at the regional scale differ from those driving change at the forest floor (i.e., the experimental treatments). Our study demonstrates that different approaches need to be integrated to acquire a full picture of how understorey communities respond to global change.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere17086
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number1
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 01.2024

Bibliographical note

All field data collection campaigns (coordinated by HB, SLM, LD, MPP, and KV), lab analyses (performed by Greet De bruyn and Luc Willems) and preliminary statistical analyses (coordinated by MPP and KV) have been funded by ERC consolidator project PASTFORWARD (614839, funding obtained by KV). Further statistical analyses have been performed within the frame of a postdoctoral fellowship of the Flemish Research Foundation FWO (funding obtained by DL, 1200321N). LD, SLM, and EL are currently being funded by two FWO postdoctoral fellowships (1221523N, 12ZZV21N) and a FWO research project (G078921N), respectively. EDL is being funded by a BOF postdoctoral fellowship. FM was supported by Slovak Research and Development Agency grant APVV-19-0319. MK, MM, MC, PP, OV, and RH are supported by long-term research development project No. RVO 67985939 of the Czech Academy of Sciences, the grant 21-11487S by the Czech Science Foundation, and postdoctoral fellowship L200052302 (to MC). TD is supported by EU Horizon 2020 INFRAIA project eLTER-PLUS (871128). Historical vegetation surveys in Białowieża Forest were funded by the Directorate-General of the State Forests in Poland (grant no. BLP-370).

    Research areas

  • Ecosystems Research - climate change, forest management, forestREplot, herbaceous layer, mesocosm experiment, nitrogen deposition, plant height, resurvey study, SLA