Jingyi Ding – Harper Prize Shortlist

Throughout April, we are featuring the articles shortlisted for the 2021 Harper Prize. The Harper Prize is an annual award for the best early career research paper published in Journal of Ecology.

Jingyi Ding’s article ‘Ecosystem functions are related to tree diversity in forests but soil biodiversity in open woodlands and shrublands‘ was one of those shortlisted for the award.

⭐️About me

I was born and grew up in the middle part of China. Ever since I was a freshman in University, I’ve enjoyed wandering in forests and woodlands. During my masters at Beijing Normal University, I worked on the desert riparian forests. And after that, I did my PhD at UNSW Sydney on woody plant communities, from 2017 to 2021. I conducted my PhD thesis on the adaptation strategy of Australian native woody plants, in which I did an extensive field survey from the Sydney coast to Cameron corner, to collect data related to soils and plants. In early 2022 I started a role as a lecturer at Beijing Normal University.

🔎About the shortlisted article

Trees and soil organisms interact and are both crucial for maintaining ecological processes and supporting multiple ecosystem functions. Despite this known interaction, less is known about the two-way relationship among above- and belowground diversity and ecosystem functions, and how this varies across multiple functions and woody systems. This knowledge gap hampers the effectiveness of restoration programs under different climates and ecosystems. To address this, we examined the relationship between aboveground diversity (trees, other plant species), soil biodiversity (bacteria, fungi, invertebrate, protist) and multiple ecosystem functions (multifunctionality, carbon and nutrient cycling, decomposition, plant biomass, soil stability) at 126 sites along a gradient in woody cover, in both forested (tree cover > 10%) and non-forested (tree cover ≤ 10%, open woodland, shrubland) systems.

(a) Location of the 126 sample sites in relation to aridity, and representative images of the woody plant community in (b) humid and (c) dry subhumid forests, and (d) semiarid and (e) arid woodland or shrubland in eastern Australia.

We show that the relative importance of above- and belowground diversity differed among ecosystem types, with ecosystem functions only associated with aboveground diversity, particularly the diversity of trees, in forested systems, but only with soil biodiversity in non-forested systems. We also found that the two-way relationship among tree diversity, soil biodiversity and ecosystem functions was not always positively coupled, and depends on the target function and ecosystem type. This suggests that the biodiversity-function relationship identified within particular ecosystems might not necessarily hold when exploring a broader array of functional processes across wider climatic regions. Our study provides strong empirical evidence that the bidirectional relationships among above- and belowground diversity and ecosystem functions are highly variable across ecosystem and function types. Moreover, our study demonstrates that soil biodiversity is relatively more important than tree diversity in supporting ecosystem functions in non-forested systems. This suggests that conservation of soil biodiversity is critical for maintaining the functioning of open woodland and shrubland systems.

Ecosystem functions are associated with the diversity of trees, in forested systems, but with soil biodiversity in non-forested systems such as open woodlands.

🌱What’s next?

My study interests cover a wide span of topics related to drylands processes, including the adaptation of woody plants to dryness, the spatial distribution of soil resources and the impact of human management on ecosystems. Currently, I am working on how the encroachment of shrubs affect the biodiversity-function relationship, and whether the removal of shrubs would revert the encroachment impact.

Find Jingyi on Twitter and Google Scholar.

Read the full list of articles shortlisted for the 2021 Harper Prize here.

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