Background and aims: There is considerable evidence for the presence of positive species diversity-productivity relationships in plant populations, but the population parameters determining the type and strength of the relationship are poorly defined. Relationships between species evenness and tree survival or species coexistence are not well established. The objective of this study was to quantify the joint effects of density and species evenness on tree productivity and species coexistence.
Methods: A 12-year-old experimental tree plantation mixing two species according to a double gradient of density and species proportion was used. A neighbourhood approach was employed and descriptors of local competition were used to model individual tree growth. Fagus sylvatica and Acer pseudoplatanus were used as model species, as they can be considered as ecologically equivalent in their young stages.
Key results: Density and tree size were primary factors determining individual growth and stand productivity. Species identity had a significant, but less pronounced, role. Stand productivity was highest when species evenness was close to 1 and slightly lower in uneven mixtures. The reduction in stand productivity when species evenness decreased was of similar magnitude irrespective of which species became dominant, indicating symmetric effects for the two species. When examining individual tree growth in response to species proportion for each species separately, it was observed for both species that individual trees exhibited greater growth in uneven mixtures in which the other species was more frequent.
Conclusions: The results suggest that mixtures of these two functionally similar species have the highest production at maximum evenness, indicating a complementary effect between them. The presence of a mixture combines both stabilizing mechanisms (individuals from both species show higher growth when surrounded by individuals from the other species) and equalizing mechanisms (the two species have very similar growth curves) that, in turn, determine the species' relative dominance. These processes should act to ensure the long-term coexistence of species.
Keywords: Acer pseudoplatanus; Fagus sylvatica; Species coexistence; competition; complementarity; density; forest plantation; overyielding; species evenness.