Effect of urbanization on the structure and functional traits of remnant subtropical evergreen broad-leaved forests in South China
We investigated the effects of major environmental drivers associated with urbanization on species diversity and plant functional traits (PFTs) in the remnant subtropical evergreen broad-leaved forests in Metropolitan Guangzhou (Guangdong, China). Twenty environmental factors including topography, light, and soil properties were used to quantify the effects of urbanization. Vegetation data and soil properties were collected from 30 400-m² plots at 6 study sites in urban and rural areas. The difference of plant species diversity and PFTs of remnant forests between urban and rural areas were analyzed. To discern the complex relationships, multivariate statistical analyses (e.g., canonical correspondence analysis and regression analysis) were employed. Pioneer species and stress-tolerant species can survive and vigorously establish their population dominance in the urban environment. The native herb diversity was lower in urban forests than in rural forests. Urban forests tend to prefer the species with Mesophanerophyte life form. In contrast, species in rural forests possessed Chamaephyte and Nanophanerophyte life forms and gravity/clonal growth dispersal mode. Soil pH and soil nutrients (K, Na, and TN) were positively related to herb diversity, while soil heavy metal concentrations (Cu) were negatively correlated with herb diversity. The herb plant species diversity declines and the species in the remnant forests usually have stress-tolerant functional traits in response to urbanization. The factors related to urbanization such as soil acidification, nutrient leaching, and heavy metal pollution were important in controlling the plant diversity in the forests along the urban–rural gradients. Urbanization affects the structure and functional traits of remnant subtropical evergreen broad-leaved forests.