Large-scale patterns of understory biomass and its allocation across China's forests

Sci Total Environ. 2022 Jan 15:804:150169. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.150169. Epub 2021 Sep 8.


Plant biomass storage and its allocation reflect the ecosystem productivity and adaptation to different environments. Understory vegetation is a significant component of any forest ecosystem and plays a vital role in biodiversity maintenance and the ecosystem's carbon cycle. Although many studies have addressed the relationships of climate, stand structure and resource availability with understory biomass and its allocation at local scales, the large-scale variation of understory biomass and allocation and their underlying mechanisms remain unclear. We compiled a large database of understory biomass at the community level across China's forests to explore the large-scale patterns of understory biomass and R/S ratio, and to quantify the relative importance of drivers. Understory biomass and R/S ratio varied largely with forest types, and decreased with increasing longitude, but increased with elevation. Understory biomass increased with increasing latitude, mean annual temperature (MAT), and mean annual precipitation (MAP), while the R/S ratio decreased with latitude, MAT, and MAP. Stand structure had a strong effect on the variations in understory biomass. MAP was the most important driver in determining R/S ratio. This synthesis provides a first assessment of the large-scale patterns of understory biomass and allocation and sheds new light on the mechanisms underlying the variations in understory biomass and its allocation over a broad geographic scale. These findings will improve predictions of understory community dynamics in response to climate change and aid in further optimizing ecosystem process models.

Keywords: Biomass allocation; Carbon storage; Overstory–understory interactions; Root/shoot ratio; Understory biomass; Understory vegetation.

MeSH terms

  • Biodiversity
  • Biomass
  • China
  • Ecosystem*
  • Forests*
  • Trees