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Diverse forests act as ‘Jacks-of-all-trades’ when providing ecosystem services

23 March 2016 Royal Holloway, University of London

A team of ecologists from Royal Holloway University of London has participated in a collaborative EU project which showed that forests composed of many different tree species are better than forests with fewer species at performing multiple ecosystem services crucial to human well-being such as timber production, carbon storage and resistance to pests and diseases.

However, diverse forests perform these multiple services in true ‘jack-of-all-trade, master-of-none’ style, without excelling at any particular task. In contrast, forests with fewer tree species provide some ecosystem services at very high levels, but others at very low levels.

The reason for this is that different species are good at providing different benefits. For example, some tree species provide habitats for many bird species, while others provide good timber. When these different tree species are planted together the averaging effect makes the resulting mixed forests moderately good at many things, producing what the researchers have termed the 'jack-of-all-trades' effect.  

The study published today (24 March) in Nature Communications was based on data collected from 209 mature forest plots in six European countries (Germany, Finland, Poland, Romania, Italy and Spain) on 16 different ecosystem services. The researchers also used computer simulations of artificial ecosystems to show that this ‘jack-of-all-trades’ effect  is likely to be widespread throughout the Earth's ecosystems, the implications being that conserving and promoting biodiversity will ensure that many ecosystem services are provided at moderate levels at the very least.

Professor Julia Koricheva from the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway, said: “These findings have important implications for forest ecosystem management. Whenever maintenance of multiple ecosystem services at average level is desired, mixed-species forest stands will be a better option than single-species stands”.

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