Soil erosion is a key threat to many ecosystems, especially in subtropical China where high erosion rates occur. While the mechanisms that induce soil erosion on agricultural land are well understood, soil erosion processes in forests have rarely been studied. Throughfall kinetic energy (TKE) is influenced in manifold ways and often determined by the tree's leaf and architectural traits. We investigated the role of species identity in mono-specific stands on TKE by asking to what extent TKE is species-specific and which leaf and architectural traits account for variation in TKE. We measured TKE of 11 different tree species planted in monocultures in a biodiversity-ecosystem-functioning experiment in subtropical China, using sand-filled splash cups during five natural rainfall events in summer 2013. In addition, 14 leaf and tree architectural traits were measured and linked to TKE. Our results showed that TKE was highly species-specific. Highest TKE was found below Choerospondias axillaris and Sapindus saponaria, while Schima superba showed lowest TKE. These species-specific effects were mediated by leaf habit, leaf area (LA), leaf pinnation, leaf margin, stem diameter at ground level (GD), crown base height (CBH), tree height, number of branches and leaf area index (LAI) as biotic factors and throughfall as abiotic factor. Among these, leaf habit, tree height and LA showed the highest effect sizes on TKE and can be considered as major drivers of TKE. TKE was positively influenced by LA, GD, CBH, tree height, LAI, and throughfall amount while it was negatively influenced by the number of branches. TKE was lower in evergreen, simple leaved and dentate leaved than in deciduous, pinnated or entire leaved species. Our results clearly showed that soil erosion in forest plantations can be mitigated by the appropriate choice of tree species.
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