Numerous studies indicate that environmental changes during the late Quaternary have elicited long-term disequilibria between species diversity and environment. Despite its importance for ecosystem functioning, the importance of historical environmental conditions as determinants of FD (functional diversity) remains largely unstudied. We quantified the geographic distributions of plant FD (richness and dispersion) across Europe using distribution and functional trait information for 2702 plant species. We then compared the importance of historical and contemporary factors to determine the relevance of past conditions as predictors of current plant FD in Europe. For this, we compared the strength of the relationships between FD with temperature and precipitation stability since the LGM (Last Glacial Maximum), accessibility to LGM refugia, and contemporary environmental conditions (climate, productivity, soil, topography, and land use). Functional richness and dispersion exhibited geographic patterns with strong associations to the environmental history of the region. The effect size of accessibility to LGM refugia and climate stability since the LGM was comparable to that of the contemporary predictors. Both functional richness and dispersion increased with temperature stability since the LGM and accessibility to LGM refugia. Functional richness' geographic pattern was primarily associated with accessibility to LGM refugia growing degree-days, land use heterogeneity, diversity of soil types, and absolute minimum winter temperature. Functional dispersion's geographic pattern was primarily associated with accessibility to LGM refugia growing degree-days and absolute minimum winter temperature. The high explained variance and model support of historical predictors are consistent with the idea that long-term variability in environmental conditions supplements contemporary factors in shaping FD patterns at continental scales. Given the importance of FD for ecosystem functioning, future climate change may elicit not just short-term shifts in ecosystem functioning, but also long-term functional disequilibria.
- Journal Article