Function follows Form : Trait-based approaches to climate change effects on wetland vegetation and functioning

Sammanfattning: Climate change and habitat fragmentation are altering the structure and functioning of plant communities world-wide. Understanding how, why and with what consequences are major challenges of ecology today. Trait-based approaches focus on functional rather than taxonomic identity to facilitate process-based explanation and prediction. This thesis develops new ways of operationalising traits to understand plant community responses to the environment and community effects on ecosystem functioning and services. Wetlands, distinct in nature and patchy in their distribution, serve as a natural laboratory to extend plant trait theory and as inspiration for metacommunity modelling.The first part of the thesis (Papers 1 and 2) focuses on wetland plant traits in relation to current and future environmental conditions, ecosystem functioning and ecosystem services. Paper 1 surveys the state of knowledge regarding (i) ultimate and proximate drivers of wetland plant community functional composition, trait covariation and responses of individual traits along gradients, as well as (ii) trait effects on the sets of ecosystem properties and processes that underlie the generation of three key wetland ecosystem services (regulation of water flow, water quality, and climate). Paper 2 modifies species distribution modelling to predict future changes in plant community trait distributions due to climate change in central Sweden, which allows a qualitative estimate of changes in ecosystem service potential. Climate change induced functional changes may benefit water quality and flow regulation provided by fens and riparian wetlands, but compromise carbon sequestration capacity in bogs.The second part of the thesis (Papers 3 and 4) develops trait-based metacommunity models to study the interplay of local and regional dynamics on species, community and whole-metacommunity responses to climate change. Paper 3 finds model assumptions about species dispersal capacity to strongly influence predictions of diversity loss following climate change. While differences in species dispersal capacity drastically increase predicted extinction risk, more realistic models based on an empirically derived seed mass – seed number trade-off strongly moderate these predictions. Without considering fitness effects of covarying traits, models that include variable dispersal capacities thus might overestimate extinction risk from climate change. Paper 4 studies the development and recovery of the regional average trait-lag of response trait distributions, as a direct measure of the instantaneous realised metacommunity response to temperature change with implications for levels of ecosystem functioning. The dynamical response jointly depended on local response capacity and regional adaptive re-organisation via species range shifts. Where habitat was scarce, connectivity network properties mediated response capacity and may guide conservation priorities.This thesis makes contributions to plant trait ecology, wetland functional ecology, ecosystem service science and metacommunity theory. As a whole it furthers progress towards a predictive ecology that can bridge scales from individual physiology to ecosystem dynamics and anticipate global change effects on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.