Evolutionary diversity is associated with wood productivity in Amazonian forests



Higher levels of taxonomic and evolutionary diversity are expected to maximize ecosystem function, yet their relative importance in driving variation in ecosystem function at large scales in diverse forests is unknown. Using 90 inventory plots across intact, lowland, terra firme, Amazonian forests and a new phylogeny including 526 angiosperm genera, we investigated the association between taxonomic and evolutionary metrics of diversity and two key measures of ecosystem function: aboveground wood productivity and biomass storage. While taxonomic and phylogenetic diversity were not important predictors of variation in biomass, both emerged as independent predictors of wood productivity. Amazon forests that contain greater evolutionary diversity and a higher proportion of rare species have higher productivity. While climatic and edaphic variables are together the strongest predictors of productivity, our results show that the evolutionary diversity of tree species in diverse forest stands also influences productivity. As our models accounted for wood density and tree size, they also suggest that additional, unstudied, evolutionarily correlated traits have significant effects on ecosystem function in tropical forests. Overall, our pan-Amazonian analysis shows that greater phylogenetic diversity translates into higher levels of ecosystem function: tropical forest communities with more distantly related taxa have greater wood productivity.

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Fig. 1: Location of plots.
Fig. 2: Bivariate relationships between aboveground wood productivity (AGWP) and the diversity variables included in the best-performing model.
Fig. 3: Standardized effect sizes for the best-fit model for both wood productivity and aboveground biomass.

Data availability

The permanently archived data package of the plot-level diversity, aboveground biomass, wood productivity and genus-level phylogeny are available from https://www.forestplots.net/en/publications#data.


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This paper is a product of the project ‘Niche Evolution of South American Trees’ (funded by NERC; NE/I028122/1), RAINFOR (the Amazon Forest Inventory Network) and ForestPlots.net (www.ForestPlots.net). Phylogenetic data were generated by the Niche Evolution of South American Trees project; forest inventory data were generated by the RAINFOR network and curated by ForestPlots.net. RAINFOR and ForestPlots.net have been supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme projects 283080 (GEOCARBON) and 282664 (AMAZALERT), ERC grant ‘Tropical Forests in the Changing Earth System’, Natural Environment Research Council Urgency, Consortium and Standard grants ‘AMAZONICA’ (NE/F005806/1), ‘TROBIT’ (NE/D005590/1) and ‘Niche Evolution of South American Trees’ (NE/I028122/1), and ‘BIO-RED’ (NE/N012542/1). F.C.d.S. was supported by a PhD scholarship from the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (Brazil; 117913-6). K.G.D. was supported by a Leverhulme International Academic Fellowship. O.L.P. was supported by an ERC Advanced Grant and is a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award holder. R.T.B. acknowledges support from a Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship (RF-2015-653). This paper is 772 in the Technical Series of the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project (BDFFP-INPA/STRI). We thank J. Lloyd and C. A. Quesada for comments on the manuscript. J. Lloyd helped conceived the RAINFOR forest census plot network. We also acknowledge A. Clark for laboratory work to generate new DNA sequences.

Author information

F.C.d.S., R.T.B. and K.G.D. conceived the study. F.C.d.S., R.T.B., O.L.P. and K.G.D. designed the study. F.C.d.S., K.G.D. and R.T.B. produced the phylogeny. F.C.d.S. analysed the data and wrote the paper. All co-authors collected field data or managed data. O.L.P. and Y.M. conceived the RAINFOR forest census plot network. K.G.D., O.L.P., R.T.P., D.N., M.J.P.S., E.Á.-D., A.Alves, I.A., A.Andrade, L.E.O.C.A., A.A.-M., E.J.M.M.A., L.A., G.A.A.C., O.B., C.B., J.G.B., R.G.A.B., R.J.W.B., F.B., J.L.C.C., W.C., J.C., A.C., J.A.C., F.C.-V., A.L.d.C., P.B.d.C., A.D.F., T.R.F., D.R.G., E.G., R.C.G., M.G., R.H., N.H., E.N.H.C., E.J.-R., T.J.K., S.L., W.F.L., G.L.-G., T.E.L., Y.M., B.S.M., B.H.M.-J., C.M., A.M.-M., D.A.N., P.N.V., M.C.P.M., G.C.P., J.J.P., N.C.A.P., L.P., A.P., F.R., A.Roopsind, A.Rudas, R.P.S., N.S., M.S., J.Singh, J.Stropp, H.t.S., J.T., R.T.-C., R.K.U., R.V.V., I.C.-V., S.A.V., V.A.V., R.J.Z. and R.T.B. commented and/or approved the manuscript.

Correspondence to Fernanda Coelho de Souza.

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Supplementary Tables 1–6, Figs. 1–12, methods, results, discussion and Appendices 1–5.

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Coelho de Souza, F., Dexter, K.G., Phillips, O.L. et al. Evolutionary diversity is associated with wood productivity in Amazonian forests. Nat Ecol Evol 3, 1754–1761 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-019-1007-y

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