The growing awareness of biodiversity by forest managers has fueled the demand for information on abiotic and biotic factors that determine spatial biodiversity patterns. Detailed and area-wide environmental data on potential predictors and site-specific habitat characteristics, however, are usually not available across large spatial extents. Recent developments in environmental data acquisition such as the advent of Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR) remote sensing provide opportunities to characterize site-specific habitat conditions at a high level of detail and across large areas. Here, we used a dataset of regularly distributed local-scale records of vascular plant, bryophyte and snail (Gastropoda) species to model richness patterns in forests across an environmentally heterogeneous region in Central Europe (Switzerland). We spatially predicted species richness based on a set of area-wide environmental factors representing climate, topography, soil pH and remotely sensed vegetation structure. Additionally, we investigated the relationship between species richness and field measures of forest stand structure and composition obtained from National Forest Inventory (NFI) data to identify potential target variables for habitat management. The predictions for species richness were most accurate for snails, followed by bryophyte and vascular plants, with R2 values ranging from 0.37 to 0.07. Besides climate, site-specific factors such as soil pH, indices of topographic position and wetness as well as canopy structure were important for predicting species richness of all three target groups. Several NFI variables were identified as potential target variables for managing snail species richness. Stands with tree species from the genera Fraxinus, Tilia, Ulmus and Acer, for example, showed a positive relationship with snail species richness, as did an increasing overstory cover or higher volumes of deadwood. However, only weak relationships were found between NFI variables and species richness of vascular plants, and none for bryophytes. Our findings support the assumption that besides climate, site-specific habitat factors are important determinants of spatial variation of species richness at the local scale. The strength and direction of the determinants vary with taxa, thus indicating a functional relationship between site conditions and the respective species community.

Zellweger, F., Braunisch, V., Morsdorf, F., Baltensweiler, A., Abegg, M., Roth, T., Bugmann, H., & Bollmann, K. (2015). Disentangling the effects of climate, topography, soil and vegetation on stand-scale species richness in temperate forests. Forest Ecology and Management, 349, 36–44.