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Forest ecosystems contribute substantially to global terrestrial primary productivity and climate regulation, but, in contrast to grasslands, experimental evidence for a positive biodiversity-productivity relationship in highly diverse forests is still lacking. Here, we provide such evidence from a large forest biodiversity experiment with a novel design in subtropical China. Productivity (stand-level tree basal area, aboveground volume and carbon and their annual increment) increased linearly with the logarithm of tree species richness. Additive partitioning showed that increasing positive complementarity effects combined with weakening negative selection effects caused a strengthening of the relationship over time. In 2-species mixed stands, complementary effects increased with functional distance and selection effects with vertical crown dissimilarity between species. Understorey shrubs reduced stand-level tree productivity, but this effect of competition was attenuated by shrub species richness, indicating that a diverse understorey may facilitate overall ecosystem functioning. Identical biodiversity-productivity relationships were found in plots of different size, suggesting that extrapolation to larger scales is possible. Our results highlight the potential of multi-species afforestation strategies to simultaneously contribute to mitigation of climate change and biodiversity restoration.

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