Climate and plant community diversity in space and time

Authors: Susan Harrison,Marko J. Spasojevic, and Daijiang Lis

Climate strongly shapes plant diversity over large spatial scales, with relatively warm and wet (benign, productive) regions supporting greater numbers of species. Unresolved aspects of this relationship include what causes it, whether it permeates to community diversity at smaller spatial scales, whether it is accompanied by patterns in functional and phylogenetic diversity as some hypotheses predict, and whether it is paralleled by climate-driven changes in diversity over time. Here, studies of Californian plants are reviewed and new analyses are conducted to synthesize climate–diversity relationships in space and time. Across spatial scales and organizational levels, plant diversity is maximized in more productive (wetter) climates, and these consistent spatial relationships are mirrored in losses of taxonomic, functional, and phylogenetic diversity over time during a recent climatic drying trend. These results support the tolerance and climatic niche conservatism hypotheses for climate–diversity relationships, and suggest there is some predictability to future changes in diversity in water-limited climates.

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