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A mixture of four species in Italy. © INRA

The homogenisation of forests diminishes the diversity of their ecosystem services

The homogenisation of forest ecosystems and the decline in tree diversity are diminishing the ability of forests to supply essential ecosystem services such as wood production or carbon storage.  A collective of European research scientists, involving INRA and CNRS1 has just published these findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).  Their results are based on a comparative modelling approach applied to forests in six European countries.

Updated on 06/30/2017
Published on 03/21/2016

During recent decades, human activities have led to the extinction of numerous species, at both the local and global levels.  In parallel, these activities, such as agricultural and forest plantations, and the introduction and expansion of exotic species, have also generated an increasing homogenisation of ecosystems at a global scale, in terms of their composition in plant and animal species.  This biotic homogenisation phenomenon is sometimes referred to as the "MacDonald’s effect", by analogy with large shopping centres that are increasingly being dominated by a small number of franchises, leading to a standardisation of supply and a drop in quality.  In European forests, the decline of tree diversity and biotic homogenisation are two very widespread phenomena.   However, although numerous scientific studies have focused on the effects of species depletion on human well-being, no research had previously demonstrated the consequences of biotic homogenisation with respect to the diversity of ecosystem services, benefits that are generated for human societies by natural ecosystems.

By means of a major European collaborative project involving 29 research teams (FunDivEUROPE), the scientists combined data on forests in six countries (Germany, Spain, Finland, Italy, Poland and Romania).  They first of all collected a large quantity of data on the different functions and services fulfilled by forest ecosystems, before using computer simulations to test the effects of biotic homogenisation and the decline in tree diversity on the ability of forest ecosystems to assure sixteen essential functions, such as the production of construction timber, carbon storage, pest resistance or maintaining bird diversity.

Their study showed that the effects of the decline in tree species are very variable, while under almost all the scenarios studied, biotic homogenisation is having a negative impact on the ability of forests to supply numerous ecosystem services.  This can be explained by the fact that not all tree species supply the same services to the same degree.  For example, in Polish forests, the European spruce produces construction timber of very good quality, while hornbeam forests foster the presence of a diversity of plants that will be favourable to ecotourism, for example.  Landscapes that comprise different types of forest are thus more capable of supplying a diversified range of ecosystem services than those where forests are dominated by the same tree species.

These effects suggest that minimising the "MacDonald’s effect", for example by preventing invasion by exotic species or using a broader diversity of trees in forest plantations, might favour the multifunctionality of forests and thus find a response to environmental, economic and social demands.

A mixture of four species in Italy. © INRA
A mixture of four species in Italy © INRA
Inventory of insects in a mixed stand of pine and spruce in Finland. © INRA
Inventory of insects in a mixed stand of pine and spruce in Finland © INRA

1In France, INRA and CNRS research scientists were involved from the INRA-Université de Bordeaux Joint Research Unit for Biodiversity, Genes and Communities (BIOGECO), the INRA-Université de Lorraine Joint Research Unit for Forest Ecology and Ecophysiology, the INRA-ENSAT Joint Research Unit for the Dynamics and Ecology of Agriforestry Landscapes (Dynafor) and the CNRS–Université de Montpellier-Montpellier Supagro-EPHE-INRA-IRD Centre for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology.

Van der Plas et al. (2016) Biotic homogenization can decrease landscape-scale forest multifunctionality, PNAS, 16 March 2016, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1517903113 

Scientific contact(s):

  • Bastien Castagneyrol (33 (0)5 57 12 27 30) Biodiversity, Genes and Communities Unit (INRA – University of Bordeaux)
Press Relations:
INRA News Office (33 (0)1 42 75 91 86)
Associated Division(s):
Forest, Grassland and Freshwater Ecology
Associated Centre(s):
Nouvelle-Aquitaine-Bordeaux, Occitanie-Toulouse, Grand Est - Nancy

The FunDivEUROPE project

FunDivEUROPE (Functional Significance of Forest Biodiversity in Europe) is a European collaborative project that aims to quantify the role of forest biodiversity in the functioning of ecosystems and the supply of goods and services in the principal types of European forests.  The consortium involves 24 partner institutions in 15 countries, coordinated by the University of Freiburg (Germany). The project was initiated in 2010 and funded under the 7th EU Framework Programme (FP7).