Advancing biodiversity-ecosystem functioning science using high-density tree-based experiments over functional diversity gradients

Cornelia M. Tobner, Alain Paquette, Peter B. Reich, Dominique Gravel, Christian Messier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


Increasing concern about loss of biodiversity and its effects on ecosystem functioning has triggered a series of manipulative experiments worldwide, which have demonstrated a general trend for ecosystem functioning to increase with diversity. General mechanisms proposed to explain diversity effects include complementary resource use and invoke a key role for species' functional traits. The actual mechanisms by which complementary resource use occurs remain, however, poorly understood, as well as whether they apply to tree-dominated ecosystems. Here we present an experimental approach offering multiple innovative aspects to the field of biodiversity-ecosystem functioning (BEF) research. The International Diversity Experiment Network with Trees (IDENT) allows research to be conducted at several hierarchical levels within individuals, neighborhoods, and communities. The network investigates questions related to intraspecific trait variation, complementarity, and environmental stress. The goal of IDENT is to identify some of the mechanisms through which individuals and species interact to promote coexistence and the complementary use of resources. IDENT includes several implemented and planned sites in North America and Europe, and uses a replicated design of high-density tree plots of fixed species-richness levels varying in functional diversity (FD). The design reduces the space and time needed for trees to interact allowing a thorough set of mixtures varying over different diversity gradients (specific, functional, phylogenetic) and environmental conditions (e.g., water stress) to be tested in the field. The intention of this paper is to share the experience in designing FD-focused BEF experiments with trees, to favor collaborations and expand the network to different conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)609-621
Number of pages13
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2014


  • Complementarity
  • Experimental design
  • Functional diversity
  • Functional traits
  • Tree-dominated ecosystems


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