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Passive rewilding may (also) restore phylogenetically rich and functionally resilient forest plant communities

Abstract : Passive rewilding is increasingly seen as a promising tool to counterbalance biodiversity losses and recover native forest ecosystems. One key question, crucial to understanding assembly processes and conservation issues underlying land‐use change, is the extent to which functional and phylogenetic diversity may recover in spontaneous recent woodlands. Here, we compared understorey plant communities of recent woodlands (which result from afforestation on agricultural lands during the 20th century) with those of ancient forests (uninterrupted for several centuries) in a hotspot of farmland abandonment in western Europe. We combined taxonomic, functional, and phylogenetic diversity metrics to detect potential differences in community composition, structure (richness, divergence), conservation importance (functional originality and specialization, evolutionary distinctiveness) and resilience (functional redundancy, response diversity). The recent and ancient forests harbored clearly distinct compositions, especially regarding the taxonomic and phylogenetic facets. Recent woodlands had higher taxonomic, functional and phylogenetic richness and a higher evolutionary distinctiveness, whereas functional divergence and phylogenetic divergence were higher in ancient forests. On another hand, we did not find any significant differences in functional specialization, originality, redundancy, or response diversity between recent and ancient forests. Our study constitutes one of the first empirical pieces of evidence that recent woodlands may spontaneously regain plant communities phylogenetically rich and functionally resilient, at least as much as those of ancient relict forests. As passive rewilding is the cheapest restoration method, we suggest that it should be a very useful tool to restore and conserve native forest biodiversity and functions, especially when forest areas are restricted and fragmented.
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Loïs Morel, Lou Barbe, Vincent Jung, Bernard Clément, Annik Schnitzler, et al.. Passive rewilding may (also) restore phylogenetically rich and functionally resilient forest plant communities. Ecological Applications, Ecological Society of America, 2020, 30 (1), pp.e02007. ⟨10.1002/eap.2007⟩. ⟨hal-02304431⟩

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