Recent tree diversity increase in NE Iberian forests following intense management release : A task for animal-dispersed and drought-tolerant species

Miriam Selwyn, Joan Pino i Vilalta, Josep Maria Espelta Morral

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Under increasing human-related threats to forests, many studies suggest that increasing tree species diversity may boost forest resilience by enhancing the range of species' responses to disturbances. However, it remains unclear whether passive or active forest management strategies should be applied to increase tree diversity. This issue would benefit from investigating which management and environmental factors, together with species' functional traits, influence temporal changes in tree species diversity. We explored the influence of the bioclimatic region, land-use history, forest cover, protection, management, forest structure and changes in temperature and precipitation, to explain tree species diversity changes in NE Iberian forests, by comparing 3141 plots from the Spanish National Forest Inventory sampled between 1989 and 2016. Moreover, we assessed which species' functional traits (dispersal habit, drought and shade tolerance) were most relevant for diversity changes. After 27 years, tree species richness and diversity moderately increased in the tree and regeneration layers. This trend occurred mostly in long-established, non-recently managed forests and in those with a lower initial basal area. Increasing temperature had negative effects for diversity increase in the tree layer but positive for the regeneration compartment, while decreasing precipitation showed the opposite effects. Tree species with higher drought tolerance, and especially those animal-dispersed ones arriving from the regional pool, mostly contributed to the local diversity increase. This pattern occurred in all forest types, although the taxonomic array of species varied. Synthesis and applications. The main drivers influencing the passive increase in tree species diversity suggest a primary role of diminishing forest exploitation in this recovery process, fine-tuned by climatic changes. This ecological scenario has particularly favoured animal-dispersed tree species with higher drought tolerance, which mostly led the diversity increase. A higher presence of such highly mobile and drought-tolerant species can be crucial to increase functional diversity and, ultimately, increase forest resilience under future scenarios of greater aridity. In light of these results, management strategies should continue fostering the restoration of diversity in once intensively exploited forests while ensuring the maintenance of the already gained tree species diversity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1029-1040
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Applied Ecology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2024


  • drought tolerance
  • forest diversity
  • functional diversity
  • land-use history
  • life history traits
  • passive restoration
  • seed dispersal


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