A comparison of European and North American forest functional diversity after the last glaciations

During the last glaciations a higher percentage of temperate trees died out in Europe as compared to North America. As a consequence the species richness nowadays is also much lower in Europe. In our publication “Functional Resilience against Climate-Driven Extinctions – Comparing the Functional Diversity of European and North American Tree Floras” (PLoS ONE, 2016, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0148607) we asked whether the more severe climate-driven extinctions of tree species in Europe as compared to North America have also led to a systematic reduction of functional diversity among European trees.

We investigated trait space occupation patterns of species co-occurring at the grid-cell, the regional and the continental level. We took a whole-plant perspective considering 26 functional traits for 154 North American and 66 European tree species.

Contrary to our expectation, we find similar levels of functional diversity for gymnosperms on the two continents. For angiosperms we find an even higher functional diversity in Europe. These results are consistent across different scales, for climatically similar regions and considering species richness patterns. They suggest, that climate-driven loss in species richness might be decoupled or at least not linearly related to changes in functional diversity of entire regions.

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