Late Quaternary climate legacies in contemporary plant functional composition

The functional composition of plant communities is commonly thought to be determined by contemporary climate. However, if rates of climate-driven immigration and/or exclusion of species are slow, then contemporary functional composition may be explained by paleoclimate as well as by contemporary climate. We tested this idea by coupling contemporary maps of plant functional trait composition across North and South America to paleoclimate means and temporal variation in temperature and precipitation from the Last Interglacial (120ka) to the present. Paleoclimate predictors strongly improved prediction of contemporary functional composition compared to contemporary climate predictors, with a stronger influence of temperature in North America (especially during periods of ice melting) and of precipitation in South America (across all times). Thus, climate from tens of thousands of years ago influences contemporary functional composition via slow assemblage dynamics.