Climate and multiple dimensions of plant diversity regulate ecosystem carbon exchange along an elevational gradient

The impacts of warming on communities and ecosystems are predicted to be significant in mountain ecosystems because physiological processes, including rates of carbon (C) cycling, are often more temperature-sensitive in colder environments. Plant biodiversity can also influence C exchange, yet few studies integrate how biotic and abiotic factors may directly or interactively impact ecosystem C flux. Here, we examine the link between simultaneous changes in multiple dimensions of plant diversity and peak growing season ecosystem C uptake across a climatic gradient in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado, USA. We found that taxonomic diversity (species richness), functional diversity (functional evenness), and phylogenetic diversity (mean pairwise distance) were significantly and positively related to peak growing season ecosystem C uptake (i.e., net ecosystem exchange) when considered independently. However, when abiotic and biotic factors were integrated in a structural equation model, only plant phylogenetic diversity was significantly related to C uptake. In addition, we found that actual evapotranspiration (AET-a measure that integrates precipitation and temperature) affected ecosystem C exchange indirectly via its impact on the three dimensions of plant diversity that we examined. These findings highlight complex relationships among key measures of biodiversity and ecosystem C uptake in a rapidly warming ecosystem, and the possible mechanisms that underlie relationships between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. They also point to the need for integrating multiple dimensions of biodiversity into studies of community and ecosystem ecology.