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Macroecological studies of long-term historical constraints on functional diversity and ecosystem functioning across continents

Final Report Summary - HISTFUNC (Macroecological studies of long-term historical constraints on functional diversity and ecosystem functioning across continents)

Earth’s environment is ongoing massive changes with strong impacts on ecosystems and their services to human societies. It is thus crucial to improve understanding of ecosystem functioning and its dynamics under environmental change. In HISTFUNC we have contributed to this by testing the hypothesis that ecosystem functioning is subject to long-term constraints mediated by biodiversity effects and driven by past climate change and other historical factors. Our methodology was primarily a macroecological Big Data approach, investigating this historical hypothesis for major organism groups (notably vascular plants and mammals) and ecosystems across continents, modeling effects of historical factors such as past climate change. The project has made use of the extensive geospatial data now available on ecosystem functioning, species distributions, and functional traits as well as on prehistoric species distributions, phylogenies, past climate, contemporary environment, and human impacts, in combination with advanced statistical and mechanistic modeling. The results of the project show considerable support for this hypothesis, with legacies of past climate and other historical factors shaping biodiversity and ecosystem patterns across thousands to millions of years, pointing to a need for rethinking ecological responses to the ongoing global change to take disequilibrium dynamics and historical contingencies into account, notably as strong pressures from climate change and other anthropogenic factors are expected across short time scales in the near future. Addressing this need, based on our work in relation to the historical hypothesis, we have also begun developing novel frameworks for predicting dynamics of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning that accounts for historical constraints and disequilibrium dynamics.