Distinguished McKnight University Professor, University of Minnesota
Understanding drivers and consequences of plant diversity across temporal and spatial scales in an era of rapid global change
Abstract: In our era of accelerating biodiversity loss, advancing understanding of the causes and consequences of biodiversity and its change through time is critical to sustaining our life support systems. Using a series of empirical systems—including model clades, manipulative experiments and long-term study sites—in conjunction with molecular, ecophysiological, spectroscopic and modeling approaches that enable integration of biological processes across spatial and temporal scales, I present insights on the factors that drive community assembly and influence ecosystem function. Legacies of evolutionary history often have underappreciated consequences for community assembly and ecosystem function. For example, oaks (Quercus spp.) became a dominant and hyperdiverse clade that has shaped the structure and function of forest ecosystems on the North American continent as a consequence of sympatric parallel adaptive radiation and evolutionary priority effects. Climate change and expanding diseases such as the oak wilt fungus (Bretziella fagacearum), however, threaten to radically change these forests. Spectroscopic technologies coupled with physiological and phylogenetic information advance the study and detection of these threats and their impacts on ecosystems at broader spatial extents than previously possible. Similarly, approaches using airborne spectroscopy detect the effects of biodiversity on productivity in forest and grassland diversity experiments, providing insight into the underlying drivers. These approaches also show potential to extend the spatial scale at which we predict belowground soil microbial processes, nutrient cycling, and other ecosystem processes. I will explain how these varied studies highlight the potential of botanical and fungal collections—in combination with emerging technologies and large data streams—to contribute to biodiversity knowledge critical to managing the planet for sustainability.