Changes in the functional diversity of modern bird species over the last million years

Despite evidence of declining biosphere integrity, we currently lack understanding of how the functional diversity associated with changes in abundance among ecological communities has varied over time and before widespread human disturbances. We combine morphological, ecological, and life-history trait data for >260 extant bird species with genomic-based estimates of changing effective population size (Ne) to quantify demographic-based shifts in avian functional diversity over the past million years and under pre-anthropogenic climate warming. We show that functional diversity was relatively stable over this period, but underwent significant changes in some key areas of trait space due to changing species abundances. Our results suggest that patterns of population decline over the Pleistocene have been concentrated in particular regions of trait space associated with extreme reproductive strategies and low dispersal ability, consistent with an overall erosion of functional diversity. Further, species most sensitive to climate warming occupied a relatively narrow region of functional space, indicating that the largest potential population increases and decreases under climate change will occur among species with relatively similar trait sets. Overall, our results identify fluctuations in functional space of extant species over evolutionary timescales and represent the demographic-based vulnerability of different regions of functional space among these taxa. The integration of paleodemographic dynamics with functional trait data enhances our ability to quantify losses of biosphere integrity before anthropogenic disturbances and attribute contemporary biodiversity loss to different drivers over time.