Remote spectral detection of biodiversity effects on forest biomass

Laura J. Williams, Jeannine Cavender-Bares, Philip A. Townsend, John J. Couture, Zhihui Wang, Artur Stefanski, Christian Messier, Peter B. Reich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Quantifying how biodiversity affects ecosystem functions through time over large spatial extents is needed for meeting global biodiversity goals yet is infeasible with field-based approaches alone. Imaging spectroscopy is a tool with potential to help address this challenge. Here, we demonstrate a spectral approach to assess biodiversity effects in young forests that provides insight into its underlying drivers. Using airborne imaging of a tree-diversity experiment, spectral differences among stands enabled us to quantify net biodiversity effects on stem biomass and canopy nitrogen. By subsequently partitioning these effects, we reveal how distinct processes contribute to diversity-induced differences in stand-level spectra, chemistry and biomass. Across stands, biomass overyielding was best explained by species with greater leaf nitrogen dominating upper canopies in mixtures, rather than intraspecific shifts in canopy structure or chemistry. Remote imaging spectroscopy may help to detect the form and drivers of biodiversity–ecosystem function relationships across space and time, advancing the capacity to monitor and manage Earth’s ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)46-54
Number of pages9
JournalNature Ecology and Evolution
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 2 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank K. Rice, R. Bermudez, J. Gamon, A. Mazur, A. Schweiger, M. Sinnen, R. Wang and numerous interns for field assistance. We also thank E. Butler, J. Ditmer, B. Fallon, S. Hobbie, F. Isbell, S. Kothari, J. E. Meireles, R. Putnam, G. Sapes and A. Schweiger for comments. The project was funded by a National Science Foundation and National Aeronautic and Space Administration grant awarded to J.C.-B. (grant no. DEB-1342872) and P.A.T. (grant no. DEB-1342778) through the Dimensions of Biodiversity program, the Hubachek Wilderness Research endowment (University of Minnesota), the Canada Research Chairs program and the National Science Foundation’s Biology Integration Institutes program (grant no. NSF-DBI-2021898).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.


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