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  1. In ecology, multifunctionality metrics measure the simultaneous performance of multiple ecosystem functions. If species diversity describes the variety of species that together build the ecosystem, multifunctionality attempts to describe the variety of functions these species perform. A range of methods have been proposed to quantify multifunctionality, successively attempting to alleviate problems that have been identified with the previous methods. This has led to a proliferation of more‐or‐less closely related metrics which, however, lack an overarching theoretical framework. Here we borrow from the comprehensive framework of species diversity to derive a new metric of multifunctionality. Analogously to the effective number of species used to quantify species diversity, the metric we propose is influenced both by the number of functions as well as, crucially, the evenness of performance levels across functions. In addition, the effective multifunctionality also considers the average level at which the functions are performed. The result is a measure of the cumulative performance of the system were all functions provided equally. The framework allows for the inclusion of the correlation structure among functions, thus allowing it to account for non‐independence between functions. We show that the average metric is a special case of the newly proposed metric when all functions are uncorrelated and performed at equal levels. We hope that by providing a new metric of multifunctionality anchored in the rigorous framework of species diversity based on effective numbers, we will overcome the considerable skepticism that the larger community of ecologists has built against indices of multifunctionality. We thereby hope to help popularize this important concept which, like biological diversity, describes a fundamental property of ecosystems and thus lies at the heart of ecology.

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  2. Abstract

    Many studies identify fungal and oomycete phytopathogens as natural enemies capable of influencing plant species composition and promoting diversity in plant communities. However, little is known about how plant‐pathogen interactions vary along regional abiotic gradients or with tree species characteristics, which limits our understanding of the causes of variation in tree species richness.

    We surveyed 10,756 seedlings from 272 tree species for disease symptoms along a mean annual precipitation gradient in the tropical wet forests of Central Panama for 3 months in the early wet season (June–August) and 2 months in the following dry season (March–April). Over 99% of observed disease symptoms were caused by necrotrophic foliar pathogens, while less than 1% of symptoms were attributed to soilborne pathogens. Foliar disease incidence was inversely related to mean annual precipitation, a pattern which may be due to greater disease susceptibility among dry forest species.

    Foliar disease incidence increased with conspecific seedling density but did not respond to the proximity of conspecific adults. Although foliar disease incidence decreased as mean annual precipitation increased, the strength of conspecific density‐ or distance‐dependence was independent of the precipitation gradient.

    Seedlings of common tree species and species dispersed by non‐flying mammals had a higher risk of foliar pathogen incidence. Increased disease in common species may help reduce their dominance.

    Synthesis. The increases in foliar pathogen incidence with conspecific seedling density, species abundance, and dispersal mechanism indicate that foliar disease incidence is non‐random and may contribute to the regulation of tropical plant communities and species coexistence. Furthermore, the relationships between foliar disease incidence, dispersal mechanism and precipitation suggest plant‐pathogen interactions could shift as a response to climate change and disruption of the disperser community.

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  3. Abstract

    When plants die, neighbours escape competition. Living conspecifics could disproportionately benefit because they are freed from negative intraspecific processes; however, if the negative effects of past conspecific neighbours persist, other species might be advantaged, and diversity might be maintained through legacy effects. We examined legacy effects in a mapped forest by modelling the survival of 37,212 trees of 23 species using four neighbourhood properties: living conspecific, living heterospecific, legacy conspecific (dead conspecifics) and legacy heterospecific densities. Legacy conspecific effects proved nearly four times stronger than living conspecific effects; changes in annual survival associated with legacy conspecific density were 1.5% greater than living conspecific effects. Over 90% of species were negatively impacted by legacy conspecific density, compared to 47% by living conspecific density. Our results emphasize that legacies of trees alter community dynamics, revealing that prior research may have underestimated the strength of density dependent interactions by not considering legacy effects.

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  4. A fundamental assumption of functional ecology is that functional traits are related to interspecific variation in performance. However, the relationship between functional traits and performance is often weak or uncertain, especially for plants. A potential explanation for this inconsistency is that the relationship between functional traits and vital rates (e.g., growth and mortality) is dependent on local environmental conditions, which would lead to variation in trait-rate relationships across environmental gradients. In this study, we examined trait-rate relationships for six functional traits (seed mass, wood density, maximum height, leaf mass per area, leaf area, and leaf dry matter content) using long-term data on seedling growth and survival of woody plant species from eight forest sites spanning a pronounced precipitation and soil phosphorus gradient in central Panama. For all traits considered except for leaf mass per area-mortality, leaf mass per area-growth, and leaf area-mortality relationships, we found widespread variation in the strength of trait-rate relationships across sites. For some traits, trait-rate relationships showed no overall trend but displayed wide site-to-site variation. In a small subset of cases, variation in trait-rate relationships was explained by soil phosphorus availability. Our results demonstrate that environmental gradients have the potential to influence how functional traits are related to growth and mortality rates, though much variation remains to be explained. Accounting for site-to-site variation may help resolve a fundamental issue in trait-based ecology – that traits are often weakly related to performance – and improve the utility of functional traits for explaining key ecological and evolutionary processes. 
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  5. Abstract

    Tropical tree‐species richness is positively correlated with annual precipitation, but the mechanisms remain unclear. Phytopathogens promote tree‐species coexistence by disproportionately afflicting seedlings of locally abundant species, generating a rare species advantage. We consider whether increased plant–pathogen interactions in humid conditions favourable for phytopathogens could drive the precipitation‐richness relationship by accentuating the rare species advantage.

    Support for this mechanism requires that increases in disease under humid conditions disproportionately affect locally abundant species without spreading to rarer species. This criterion would be augmented by either increased phytopathogen host‐specificity under humid conditions, or increased asynchronicity in germination of different tree species.

    Research suggests that precipitation increases the rare species advantage. Increased precipitation enhances phytopathogen transmission, making escape from specialist pathogens more difficult. Additionally, drought stress predisposes plants to disease, especially by opportunistic pathogens. As seasonality in wet forests decreases, scope for asynchronous germination among species increases, potentially concentrating disease transmission within species.

    Synthesis. The pathways we identify could drive the precipitation‐richness relationship, but finding direct evidence for them remains a priority. Researching these pathways is especially important because decreasing precipitation due to climate change could disrupt key species coexistence mechanisms and erode tree‐species richness.

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  6. Abstract

    Remote sensing imagery can provide critical information on the magnitude and extent of damage caused by forest pests and pathogens. However, monitoring short‐term changes in deciduous forest condition caused by defoliating insects is challenging and requires approaches that directly account for seasonal vegetation dynamics. We implemented a previously published harmonic modeling approach for forest condition monitoring in Google Earth Engine and systematically assessed the relative ability of condition change products generated using various model parameterizations for predicting pest abundances and defoliation during the 2016–2018 gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) outbreak in southern New England. Our comparisons revealed that most models made reasonable predictions of changes in canopy condition and egg and larval abundances ofL. dispar, indicating a strong correlation between our harmonic‐based estimates of condition change and defoliator activity. The greatest differences in predictive ability were in the spectral domain, with assessments based on Tasseled Cap Greenness, Simple Ratio, and the Enhanced Vegetation Index ranking among the top models, and the commonly used Normalized Difference Vegetation Index consistently exhibiting poorer performance. We also observed notable differences in the magnitude of scores for different baseline periods. Additionally, we found that Landsat‐based condition scores better explained larval abundance than egg mass counts, which have historically been used as a proxy for later‐season larval abundance, indicating that our remote sensing approach may be more accurate and cost‐effective for generating consistent retrospective assessments ofL. disparpopulation abundance in addition to estimates of canopy damage. These findings provide important linkages between spectral changes detected using a harmonic modeling approach and biophysical aspects of defoliator activity, with potential to extend monitoring and prediction to regional or even continental scales.

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