The influence of paleoclimate on present-day patterns in biodiversity and ecosystems

Jens-Christian Svenning, Wolf L Eiserhardt, Signe Normand, Alejandro Ordonez, Brody Sandel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

134 Citations (Scopus)


Earth's climate has experienced strong changes on timescales ranging from decades to millions of years. As biodiversity has evolved under these circumstances, dependence on these climate dynamics is expected. In this review, we assess the current state of knowledge on paleoclimatic legacies in biodiversity and ecosystem patterns. Paleoclimate has had strong impacts on past biodiversity dynamics, driving range shifts and extinctions as well as diversification. We outline theory for how these dynamics may have left legacies in contemporary patterns and review the empirical evidence. We report ample evidence that Quaternary glacial–interglacial climate change affects current patterns of species distributions and diversity across a broad range of organisms and regions. We also report emerging evidence for paleoclimate effects on current patterns in phylogenetic and functional diversity and ecosystem functioning and for legacies of deeper-time paleoclimate conditions. Finally, we discuss implications for Anthropocene ecology and outline an agenda to improve our understanding of paleoclimate's role in shaping contemporary biodiversity and ecosystems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)551-572
Early online date28 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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