Shrub layer diversity is an essential component of the forest ecosystem diversity, that contributes significantly to structuring the community and maintaining diversity, especially in plantation forests. In previous studies, researchers have reported the strong relationship among various factors (i.e., soil composition, mean annual temperature, etc.) and shrub diversity. However, how these factors jointly influence shrub diversity and which factors could be considered the key factors is still unknown. In this study, we attempted to quantify the effect among environmental factors, soil factors and forest stand factors on shrub diversity. Twenty-seven variables were selected from 57 Chinese pine plantation plots in Huanglong Mountain, Yanan City, Shaanxi Province, China. The path models showed that latent variable of soil properties is the main effective factor of latent variable of shrub diversity (directly effect, path coefficient = 0.344) and the latent variable of site conditions is another effective factor of latent variable of shrub diversity (indirectly effect, path coefficient = 0.177); Besides, the latent variable of site conditions and forest properties directly affect the latent variable of soil properties (path coefficient = 0.514 and 0.326, respectively). Among the latent variable of soil properties, soil water content (SWC) has the biggest weight of 0.666, which indicated the most significant contribution of SWC to latent variables of shrub diversity. Total nitrogen, weighted 0.375, and total phosphorus, weighted 0.308, are also important factors and make a similar contribution to latent variable of shrub diversity. Soil organic matter (SOM) has a minimal impact (lowest weight, 0.059); among the objective variables of site condition, altitude contributes the most and is followed by litter thickness, weighted at 0.722 and 0.448, respectively. Furthermore, among all the variables affecting the latent variable of forest properties, forest age is recognized as the maximum impactor of soil property change, which weighted −0.941; and is followed by forest stock volume and diameter at breast height (DBH), weighted 0.795 and 0.788, respectively. The crowding index (C) has the lowest weight (−0.235) and demonstrated that spatial distribution and crowding of trees have minimal impact on the latent variable of Soil properties. diversity Overall, our study provides new insights into quantifying the relationships among different driving factors that potentially play a significant role in determining shrub layer diversity within the plantation forest.
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