Aug. 1 (UPI) -- Forest health depends on more than just a healthy variety of tree species. New research suggests animal and fungi diversity also plays an important role in forest health.
The revelation is the result of a decade-long survey of several subtropical forests, all of them rich in biodiversity. Scientists conducted the survey in order to detail the importance of understanding forest health more holistically.
Understandably, forest conservation puts a heavy emphasis on trees. A forest is not a forest without trees. But in the shade of the star species are thousands of smaller organisms, many of them providing essential ecological services.
Through their decade's worth of observations, the team of German, Chinese, Swiss and American researchers were able to detail these unheralded species -- beetles, spiders, ants, woodlice and fungi --and the ways they promote timber growth, prevent of soil erosion, recycle of nutrients and curb of pest populations.
"Our analyses show that the diversity of animal and fungal species affects numerous important processes -- such as the availability of nutrients for tree growth," Andreas Schuldt, researcher at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research, said in a news release. "To understand why and how a loss of biodiversity affects these forests, it is not enough to concentrate solely on the trees and their species diversity."
The new research -- published this week in the journal Nature Communications -- also showed tree diversity is more complicated than scientists realized. Tree diversity is important, scientists found, because of the different functional properties offered by different types of trees. The right balance of functional properties is essential to forest health.
"Our previous knowledge on the relationships between multifunctionality and biodiversity mainly comes from comparatively species-poor forests in Europe and North America," said Helge Bruelheide, biology professor at the Martin Luther University Halle Wittenberg. "We can now show for the first time that such relationships in the extremely species-rich subtropics and tropics follow their own dynamics. This is important to understand because these forests are of great importance for global biogeochemical cycles and for us humans."
Bruelheide and his colleagues hope their work can help conservationists devise more holistic protection plans for the world's forests.