Climate-driven extinctions shape the phylogenetic structure of temperate tree floras

Wolf L Eiserhardt, Finn Borchsenius, Christoffer M Plum, Alejandro Ordonez, Jens-Christian Svenning

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)


When taxa go extinct, unique evolutionary history is lost. If extinction is selective, and the intrinsic vulnerabilities of taxa show phylogenetic signal, more evolutionary history may be lost than expected under random extinction. Under what conditions this occurs is insufficiently known. We show that late Cenozoic climate change induced phylogenetically selective regional extinction of northern temperate trees because of phylogenetic signal in cold tolerance, leading to significantly and substantially larger than random losses of phylogenetic diversity (PD). The surviving floras in regions that experienced stronger extinction are phylogenetically more clustered, indicating that non-random losses of PD are of increasing concern with increasing extinction severity. Using simulations, we show that a simple threshold model of survival given a physiological trait with phylogenetic signal reproduces our findings. Our results send a strong warning that we may expect future assemblages to be phylogenetically and possibly functionally depauperate if anthropogenic climate change affects taxa similarly.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)263-72
Number of pages10
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number3
Early online date20 Jan 2015
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2015


  • Biodiversity
  • Biological Evolution
  • Climate
  • Climate Change
  • Computer Simulation
  • Extinction, Biological
  • Models, Biological
  • Phylogeny
  • Trees
  • Journal Article


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