Overstorey composition shapes across-trophic level community relationships in deciduous forest regardless of fragmentation context
1. Communities across trophic levels, and the functional roles they play, are vital for the sustained provision of ecosystem services. In forest systems, diversification of overstorey composition has been shown to be a key driver of biodiversity, but its influence on across-trophic level relationships remains scarcely known. Species across trophic levels in varied overstorey compositions are also differentially sus-ceptible to fragmentation context. We hypothesise that fragmentation will disrupt community relationships associated with particular overstorey compositions. 2. We test this hypothesis using a tree diversity research platform across 53 decidu-ous woodland plots in central Belgium. We estimate species’ abundances within nine, generally taxonomic, community groups across trophic levels: understorey vegetation; leaf miners and gall formers; woodlice, millipedes; carabid beetles, harvestmen, spiders, birds, bats. We use multiple co-inertia analyses to examine how taxonomic and trophic role community matrices covary across gradients of overstorey composition, via three different tree species diversification pathways, and fragmentation. 3. For all trophic role groups, across all plots, there was at least one significant pairwise comparison. Apart from comparisons involving bats, there was at least one significant pairwise correlation between taxonomic groups too. These results indicate correlated community matrices across trophic levels. Overstorey composition related to community tightness, that is, the level of co-ordinated change among taxonomic and/or trophic role groups as revealed by multiple co-inertia analyses. Notably, diversifying woodlands of beech Fagus sylvatica or red oak Quercus rubra with pedunculate oak Quercus robur correlated with increased taxonomic community tightness. Diversifying pedunculate oak forest stands with other overstorey species related to unchanged community tightness. Evidence was lacking for fragmentation affecting community tightness, singly or by interacting with overstorey composition. 4. Synthesis. Overall, changing tree species composition and fragmentation level affected across-trophic level community relationships differently. Yet, we demonstrated a clear signal that diversifying monoculture stands with particular species correlated with greater community tightness, and co-ordinated change among sets of community groups, across trophic levels and regardless of fragmentation context. We postulate that having tighter community relationships suggests that measures to improve biodiversity at one trophic level (i.e. trees) could affect other groups, and their associated roles, in a co-ordinated manner.
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