Study: China’s Most Important Trees Are Hiding in Plain Sight

by Harvard University

In ecosystems around the globe, the danger of being a common or widespread species is the tendency to be overlooked by conservation efforts that prioritize rarity. In forests, the most common species can be essential to ecosystem structure and function, which crumble with the decline of these pivotal trees, known collectively as foundation species.

Photo courtesy of Harvard University

In an effort to identify forest foundation species and elevate their conservation status before they disappear, a unique research collaboration between Chinese and American scientists – sparked by a workshop in Beijing presented by Harvard Forest Senior Ecologist Aaron Ellison – has synthesized long-term biodiversity data from 12 immense forest study plots spanning 1,500 miles, from China’s far north to its southern tropics.

Their results, published today in the journal Ecology, point to maple trees – long appreciated for their autumn foliage and the syrup that graces our tables – as potential foundation species in both China and North America.

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