Loss of foundation species: consequences for the structure and dynamics of forested ecosystems

  • Authors: Ellison, Aaron M.; Bank, Michael S.; Clinton, Barton D.; Colburn, Elizabeth A.; Elliott, Katherine; Ford, Chelcy Rae; Foster, David R.; Kloeppel, Brian D.; Knoepp, Jennifer D.; Lovett, Gary M.; Mohan, Jacqueline; Orwig, David A.; Rodenhouse, Nicholas L.; Sobczak, William V.; Stinson, Kristina A.; Stone, Jeffrey K.; Swan, Christopher M.; Thompson, Jill; Holle, Betsy Von; Webster, Jackson R.
  • Publication Year: 2005
  • Publication Series: Miscellaneous Publication
  • Source: Front Ecol. Environ. 3(9): 479 – 486

Abstract

In many forested ecosystems, the architecture and functional ecology of certain tree species define forest structure and their species-specific traits control ecosystem dynamics. Such foundation tree species are declining throughout the world due to introductions and outbreaks of pests and pathogens, selective removal of individual taxa, and over-harvesting. Through a series of case studies, we show that the loss of foundation tree species changes the local environment on which a variety of other species depend; how this disrupts fundamental ecosystem processes, including rates of decomposition, nutrient fluxes, carbon sequestration, and energy flow; and dramatically alters the dynamics of associated aquatic ecosystems. Forests in which dynamics are controlled by one or a few foundation species appear to be dominated by a small number of strong interactions and may be highly susceptible to alternating between stable states following even small perturbations. The ongoing decline of many foundation species provides a set of important, albeit unfortunate, opportunities to develop the research tools, models, and metrics needed to identify foundation species, anticipate the cascade of immediate, short- and long-term changes in ecosystem structure and function that will follow from their loss, and provide options for remedial conservation and management.

  • Citation: Ellison, Aaron M.; Bank, Michael S.; Clinton, Barton D.; Colburn, Elizabeth A.; Elliott, Katherine; Ford, Chelcy Rae; Foster, David R.; Kloeppel, Brian D.; Knoepp, Jennifer D.; Lovett, Gary M.; Mohan, Jacqueline; Orwig, David A.; Rodenhouse, Nicholas L.; Sobczak, William V.; Stinson, Kristina A.; Stone, Jeffrey K.; Swan, Christopher M.; Thompson, Jill; Holle, Betsy Von; Webster, Jackson R. 2005. Loss of foundation species: consequences for the structure and dynamics of forested ecosystems. Front Ecol. Environ. 3(9): 479 – 486
  • Posted Date: April 4, 2006
  • Modified Date: May 3, 2007
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