Experimental forest plantations to study biodiversity–ecosystem functioning (BEF) relationships have recently been established in different regions of the world, but subtropical biomes have not been covered so far. Here, we report about the initial survivorship of 26 tree species in the first such experiment in subtropical China. In the context of the joint Sino–German–Swiss Research Unit “BEF-China,” 271 experimental forest plots were established using 24 naturally occurring tree species and two native commercial conifers. Based on the survival inventories carried out in November 2009 and June 2010, the overall survival rate was 87 % after the first 14 months. Generalized mixed-effects models showed that survival rates of seedlings were significantly affected by species richness, the species’ leaf habit (deciduous or evergreen), species identity, planting date, and altitude. In the first survey, seedling establishment success decreased with increasing richness levels, a tendency that disappeared in the second survey after replanting. Though evergreen species performed less well than deciduous species with establishment rates of 84 versus 93 % in the second survey, their planting success exceeded the general expectation for subtropical broad-leaved evergreen species. These results have important implications for establishing mixed-species plantations for diversity conservation and improvement of ecosystem functioning in the Chinese subtropics and elsewhere. Additional costs associated with mixed-species plantations as compared to conventional plantations also demonstrate the potential of upscaling BEF experiments to large-scale afforestation projects.
- biodiversity and ecosystem functioning
- tree diversity experiment
- forest plantation success
- seedling performance