The joint Chinese-German-Swiss research project “BEF-China” (FOR 891) integrates more than 15 German, Swiss, and Chinese universities and institutes into 13 collaborative subprojects. The project was funded in the first phase from 2008-2011 and is now in the third phase, 2014-2016.

In 2009 and 2010, the BEF-China project established a large forest biodiversity–ecosystem functioning (BEF) experiment at the subtropical forest site Xingangshan in Jiangxi Province, China. The BEF-China project is the first BEF forest experiment in the highly species-rich subtropics.

The present research concentrates on measuring ecosystem functions in the experimental plots, namely primary productivity, carbon and nitrogen storage, nutrient cycling, and prevention of soil erosion. The latter process is an ecosystem service which has until now never been studied in an experimental biodiversity manipulation, but has prominent importance in this region. An additional research focus will be interactions with other trophic levels and strata (herb layer, soil macrofauna, herbivores, decomposers, mycorrhiza, soil microorganisms). To meet these objectives, a wide range of scientists contribute to the BEF-China project, involving groups focusing on tree growth allometries, plant functional traits, plant-insect interactions, wood decomposition, phosphorus cycling and erosion potential.

As in the first phase, the project continues to be carried out in close collaboration between Chinese and European researchers with complementary knowledge and skills. In addition, the measurements in the CSPs are continuing. The joint synthesis of the data gathered in both phases of BEF-China will help to resolve one of the most central issues in ecology and global change biology: how plant diversity may maintain vital services in forest ecosystems.