Plant diversity enhances productivity and soil carbon storage

Shiping Chen, Wantong Wang, Wenting Xu, Yang Wang, Hongwei Wan, Dima Chen, Zhiyao Tang, Xuli Tang, Guoyi Zhou, Zongqiang Xie, Daowei Zhou, Zhouping Shangguan, Jianhui Huang, Jin Sheng He, Yanfen Wang, Jiandong Sheng, Lisong Tang, Xinrong Li, Ming Dong, Yan WuQiufeng Wang, Zhiheng Wang, Jianguo Wu, F. Stuart Chapin, Yongfei Bai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

333 Scopus citations


Despite evidence from experimental grasslands that plant diversity increases biomass production and soil organic carbon (SOC) storage, it remains unclear whether this is true in natural ecosystems, especially under climatic variations and human disturbances. Based on field observations from 6,098 forest, shrubland, and grassland sites across China and predictions from an integrative model combining multiple theories, we systematically examined the direct effects of climate, soils, and human impacts on SOC storage versus the indirect effects mediated by species richness (SR), aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP), and belowground biomass (BB). We found that favorable climates (high temperature and precipitation) had a consistent negative effect on SOC storage in forests and shrublands, but not in grasslands. Climate favorability, particularly high precipitation, was associated with both higher SR and higher BB, which had consistent positive effects on SOC storage, thus offsetting the direct negative effect of favorable climate on SOC. The indirect effects of climate on SOC storage depended on the relationships of SR with ANPP and BB, which were consistently positive in all biome types. In addition, human disturbance and soil pH had both direct and indirect effects on SOC storage, with the indirect effects mediated by changes in SR, ANPP, and BB. High soil pH had a consistently negative effect on SOC storage. Our findings have important implications for improving global carbon cycling models and ecosystem management: Maintaining high levels of diversity can enhance soil carbon sequestration and help sustain the benefits of plant diversity and productivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4027-4032
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number16
StatePublished - 2018


  • Aboveground net primary productivity
  • Belowground biomass
  • Human disturbance
  • Soil carbon storage
  • Species richness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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