Daniel J. Wiecznski, Brad Boyle, Vanessa Buzzard, Sandra M. Duran, Amanda N. Henderson, Catherine M. Hulshof, Andrew J. Kerkhoff, Megan C. McCarthy, Sean T. Michaletz, Nathan G. Swenson, Gregory P. Asner, Lisa Patrick Bentley, Brian J. Enquist and Van M. Savage
Much ecological research aims to explain how climate impacts biodiversity and ecosystem-level processes through functional traits that link environment with individual performance. However, the specific climatic drivers of functional diversity across space and time remain unclear due largely to limitations in the availability of paired trait and climate data. We compile and analyze a global forest dataset using a method based on abundance-weighted trait moments to assess how climate influences the shapes of whole-community trait distributions. Our approach combines abundance-weighted metrics with diverse climate factors to produce a comprehensive catalog of trait-climate relationships that differ dramatically-27% of significant results change in sign and 71% disagree on sign, significance, or both-from traditional species-weighted methods. We find that (i) functional diversity generally declines with increasing latitude and elevation, (ii) temperature variability and vapor pressure are the strongest drivers of geographic shifts in functional composition and ecological strategies, and (iii) functional composition may currently be shifting over time due to rapid climate warming. Our analysis demonstrates that climate strongly governs functional diversity and provides essential information needed to predict how biodiversity and ecosystem function will respond to climate change.