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Journal of Arid Land  2022, Vol. 14 Issue (2): 225-244    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-022-0006-z
Research article     
Dieback intensity but not functional and taxonomic diversity indices predict forest productivity in different management conditions: Evidence from a semi-arid oak forest ecosystem
1Faculty of Natural Resources, Chalus Branch, Islamic Azad University, Chalus 46615/397, Iran
2Department of Forestry, Chalous Branch, Islamic Azad University, Chalous 46615/397, Iran
3Department of Rangeland and Watershed Management, Faculty of Natural Resources and Earth Sciences, Shahrekord University, Shahrekord 8818634141, Iran
4Key Laboratory of Forest Ecology and Management, Institute of Applied Ecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shenyang 110164, China
5INRAE, Aix Marseille University, UMR RECOVER, Mediterranean Ecosystems and Risks, Aix-en-Provence 13128, France
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The relationships between different aspects of diversity (taxonomic, structural and functional) and the aboveground biomass (AGB) as a major component of global carbon balance have been studied extensively but rarely under the simultaneous influence of forest dieback and management. In this study, we investigate the relationships between taxonomic, functional and structural diversity of woody species (trees and shrubs) and AGB along a gradient of dieback intensity (low, moderate, high and no dieback as control) under two contrasted management conditions (protection by central government vs. traditional management by natives) in a semi-arid oak (Quercus brantii Lindl.) forest ecosystem. AGB was estimated and taxonomic diversity, community weighted average (CWM) and functional divergence indices were produced. We found that the aerial biomass was significantly higher in the intensively used area (14.57 (±1.60) t/hm2) than in the protected area (8.70 (±1.05) t/hm2) due to persistence of some large trees but with decreasing values along the dieback intensity gradient in both areas. CWM of height (H), leaf nitrogen content (LNC) and leaf dry matter content (LDMC) were also higher in the traditional managed area than in the protected area. In contrast, in the protected area, the woody species diversity was higher and the inter-specific competition was more intense, explaining a reduced H, biomass and LDMC. Contrary to the results of CWM, none of the functional diversity traits (FDvar) was affected by dieback intensity and only FDvar values of LNC, leaf phosphorus content (LPC) and LDMC were influenced by management. We also found significantly positive linear relationships of AGB with CWM and FDvar indices in the protected area, and with taxonomic and structural diversity indices in the traditional managed area. These results emphasize that along a dieback intensity gradient, the leaf functional traits are efficient predictors in estimating the AGB in protected forests, while taxonomic and structural indices provide better results in forests under a high human pressure. Finally, species identity of the dominant species (i.e., Brant's oak) proves to be the main driver of AGB, supporting the selection effect hypothesis.

Key wordsenvironmental stress      sudden oak dieback      degradation      conservation      selection effect hypothesis     
Received: 02 December 2021      Published: 28 February 2022
Corresponding Authors: Ali SHEYKHOLESLAMI     E-mail:
Cite this article:

Mona KARAMI, Mehdi HEYDARI, Ali SHEYKHOLESLAMI, Majid ESHAGH NIMVARI, Reza OMIDIPOUR, YUAN Zuoqiang, Bernard PREVOSTO. Dieback intensity but not functional and taxonomic diversity indices predict forest productivity in different management conditions: Evidence from a semi-arid oak forest ecosystem. Journal of Arid Land, 2022, 14(2): 225-244.

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Fig. 1 (a), location of the study area in the Ilam Province, Iran; (b), map of the two studied areas; views of the traditional managed area (c, d) and protected area (e, f).
Dieback intensity class
≥65% 36%-65% 10%-35% ≤10%
High intensity dieback Moderate intensity dieback Low intensity dieback No dieback or control
Signs of canopy dryness can be seen all over the tree canopy and in total about 3/4 of the tree canopy has dried; symptoms such as deep cracks, numerous holes, decay and disease can be seen all over the trunk, and sometimes half of the trunk is gone. Signs of canopy dryness can be seen in the tree canopy and in total about 1:2 of the tree canopy has dried; symptoms such as cracks, decay and disease can be seen in parts of the trunk. Signs of canopy dryness can be seen in the tree canopy and in total about 1:4 of the tree canopy has dried; there are no other symptoms such as cracks, decay and disease in the trunk. In late spring, there are no signs of canopy dryness in the tree and the crown and only few dry branches are seen.
Table 1 Dieback intensity classes
Fig. 2 Trees in the four classes of dieback intensity. (a) no dieback; (b) low dieback; (c) moderate dieback; (d) high dieback.
Fig. 3 Mean aboveground biomass values under different dieback intensity classes (control, low, moderate and high dieback) in the traditional managed (a) and protected (b) areas. Different lowercase letters indicate significant differences among different dieback intensity classes within the same area at P<0.05 level.
df CWM of LPC CWM of LNC CWM of H
Management (A) 1 117.60 <0.001 148,042 <0.001 10,098 <0.001
Dieback intensity (B) 3 3.55 0.019 6.79 <0.001 6.89 <0.001
A×B 3 3.55 0.019 7.31 <0.001 7.27 <0.001
Management (A) 1 167,215 <0.001 446,409 0.001 4.02 0.049
Dieback intensity (B) 3 7.01 <0.001 3.72 0.015 4.77 0.004
A×B 3 7.22 <0.001 3.89 0.012 6.55 0.001
df FDvar of LPC FDvar of LNC FDvar of H
Protection (A) 1 17.170 <0.001 7.370 0.009 5.930 0.190
Dieback intensity (B) 3 0.152 0.928 1.120 0.351 1.130 0.348
A×B 3 0.216 0.806 0.137 0.872 0.002 0.998
df FDvar of LDMC FDvar of SLA FDvar of WD
Protection (A) 1 8.32 0.238 0.628 1.170 0.282
Dieback intensity (B) 3 0.56 0.728 0.540 2.780 0.052
A×B 3 0.51 0.088 0.916 0.278 0.758
Table 2 Results of the generalized linear model with protection, dieback intensity and their interaction on CWM and FDvar functional traits
Functional diversity index Traditional managed Protected
No dieback or control Low intensity dieback Moderate intensity dieback High intensity dieback No dieback
or control
Low intensity dieback Moderate intensity dieback High intensity dieback
CWM of LPC 0.238±0.00c 0.24±0.00c 0.239±0.00c 0.240±0.00c 1.114±0.13b 1.985±0.27a 1.834±0.28a 1.174±0.23b
CWM of LNC 2.72±0.014b 2.85±0.000a 2.76±0.020b 2.49±0.008c 0.24±0.001d 0.24±0.001d 0.24±0.001d 0.24±0.001d
CWM of H 9.02±0.150c 9.29±0.000b 9.36±0.210b 9.72±0.080a 2.77±0.006d 2.74±0.006d 2.74±0.012d 2.77±0.007d
CWM of
570.44±3.11d 586.66±0.00a 577.53±4.29c 580.93±1.72b 9.27±0.06e 8.96±0.13e 9.05±0.14e 9.35±0.08e
CWM of SLA 7.52±0.04c 7.74±0.00c 7.62±0.05c 7.72±0.02c 581.11±0.80a 574.93±1.90b 575.98±2.40b 581.25±1.20a
CWM of WD 0.81±0.012e 0.87±0.000a 0.83±0.016cde 0.86±0.006ab 0.84±0.004bcd 0.82±0.009de 0.82±0.01de 0.85±0.006abc
FDvar of LPC 1.00±0.00a - 1.000±0.00a 1.000±0.00a 0.341±0.29b 0.165±0.09b 0.171±0.09b 0.057±0.01b
FDvar of LNC 0.016±0.00d - 0.018±0.00d 0.015±0.00d 3.01±0.87ab 1.51±1.02c 2.61±1.10bc 4.40±1.10a
FDvar of H 0.191±0.019 - 0.222±0.030 0.195±0.001 0.327±0.029 0.415±0.051 0.356±0.042 0.327±0.050
FDvar of
0.016±0.00b - 0.018±0.00b 0.016±0.00b 3.203±0.71a 3.309±1.29a 3.308±1.13a 4.254±0.99a
FDvar of SLA 0.018±0.002 - 0.020±0.003 0.017±0.002 0.044±0.007 0.466±0.392 0.065±0.009 0.338±0.207
FDvar of WD 0.156±0.017 - 0.181±0.026 0.158±0.013 0.175±0.028 0.460±0.173 0.247±0.032 0.357±0.111
Table 3 Comparison of mean of CWM and FDvar of functional traits under different dieback intensities in the traditional managed and protected areas
Source of variation df Species richness Shannon index Evenness index
Protection (A) 1 193.02 <0.001 32.82 <0.001 744.06 <0.001
Dieback intensity (B) 3 3.12 0.031 6.13 0.001 7.48 <0.001
A×B 3 2.75 0.049 7.49 <0.001 2.97 0.038
Source of variation df Mingling index Height differentiation Diameter differentiation
Protection (A) 1 316.04 <0.001 689.90 <0.001 832.03 <0.001
Dieback intensity (B) 3 9.78 <0.001 18.12 <0.001 28.15 <0.001
A×B 3 2.02 0.118 7.32 <0.001 13.65 <0.001
Table 4 Effect of management, dieback intensity and their interaction on taxonomic (richness, evenness and Shannon-Wiener diversity) and structural diversity (mingling, height differentiation and diameter differentiation) indices
Fig. 4 Mean values of the taxonomic diversity (diversity (a, b), richness (c, d) and evenness (e, f)) and structural diversity (height and diameter differentiation indices (g-j) and mingling (k, l)) indices under different dieback intensity classes (control, low, moderate and high) in the traditional managed and protected areas. Different lowercase letters indicate significant differences among different dieback intensity classes within the same area at P<0.05 level.
Fig. 5 Relationships between aboveground biomass and functional diversity (CWM (a-e) and Fdvar (f)), taxonomic diversity (structural diversity (diameter differentiation, g), richness (h) and evenness (i)) indices in protected (green confidence interval) and traditional managed areas (red confidence interval)
Fig. 6 Relative importance of different variables in each category of plant diversity, stand structure and trait composition of woody species in the traditional managed (a) and protected (b) area; The first and second best parameters for SEM (structural equation modeling) are indicated by green and blue colors. S, richness; E, evenness; H, Shannon-Wiener diversity; MI, mingling index; HD, height differentiation; DD, diameter differentiation; LPC, leaf phosphorus content; LNC, leaf nitrogen content; H, height; LDMC, leaf dry matter content; SLA, specific leaf area; WD, wood density.
Fig. 7 The best-fit structural equation model linking dieback intensity, taxonomic diversity, stand structural indices and functional trait composition to aboveground biomass of woody species in the traditional managed (a) the protected (b) area. Solid and dashed arrows indicate significant and non-significant paths. For each path, the standardized regression coefficients are indicated by the adjacent values. Chi, chi-square test; R2, coefficient of determination; CFI, comparative fit index; RMSEA, root mean square error of approximation. *, ** and *** indicate significant differences at P<0.05, P<0.01 and P<0.001 levels, respectively.
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