Aims Larch forests are important for timber harvesting and water-soil conservation in North China. To explore the distribution, community structure and species diversity of larch forests is important for the vegetation conservation and sustainable utilization in North China.
Methods We collected species composition and local environment for 215 forest plots dominated by three common larch species, namely, Larix principis-rupprechtii, L. kaempferi and L. chinensis, in North China during 2000-2017. Among these types, L. kaempferi forests are planted, while L. chinensis forests are almost natural, and most of L. principis-rupprechtii forests are natural. Based these data, we used the canonical correspondence analysis (CCA) to explore the relationship between species composition and environment. We also explored the pattern of community structure and species diversity of these three forests in relation to environmental factors.
Important findings Mean annual air temperature (MAT) was the most important factor for the distribution of these larch forests. The proportion of natural forest decreased, while that of planted forest increased, with MAT. Diameter at breast height (DBH) and height distribution of three larch forests were right-skewed, indicating that all of these larch forests are at relatively stable successional stage. Species richness differ remarkably among different larch forests, which was highest in the L. chinensis forests (39.3 ± 17.9), followed by the L. kaempferi forests (37.4 ± 22.4), and lowest in the L. principis-rupprechtii forests (planted forests 27.2 ± 17.7, natural forests 27.5 ± 13.8). Species richness, the maximum DBH and the maximum height decreased with latitudes and longitudes. Species richness, the maximum DBH and the maximum height increased with annual precipitation. However, species richness showed no significant trend, and the maximum height increased, while the maximum DBH decreased, with MAT. The patterns of species richness along geographical and climatic gradients were consistent between the planted, the natural and the overall (including both planted and natural) larch forests. However, the patterns of community structure differed remarkably among planted, natural and overall larch forests. The maximum height of planted forests increased, while that of natural forests decreased, with latitude and longitude. The maximum DBH and height of natural forests decreased, while those of planted forests increased, with MAT and annual precipitation, respectively.