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  1. null (Ed.)
  2. Abstract

    Tropical forests are changing in composition and productivity, probably in response to changes in climate and disturbances. The responses to these multiple environmental drivers, and the mechanisms underlying the changes, remain largely unknown. Here, we use a functional trait approach on timescales of 10,000 years to assess how climate and disturbances influence the community‐mean adult height, leaf area, seed mass, and wood density for eight lowland and highland forest landscapes. To do so, we combine data of eight fossil pollen records with functional traits and proxies for climate (temperature, precipitation, and El Niño frequency) and disturbances (fire and general disturbances). We found that temperature and disturbances were the most important drivers of changes in functional composition. Increased water availability (high precipitation and low El Niño frequency) generally led to more acquisitive trait composition (large leaves and soft wood). In lowland forests, warmer climates decreased community‐mean height probably because of increased water stress, whereas in highland forests warmer climates increased height probably because of upslope migration of taller species. Disturbance increased the abundance of acquisitive, disturbance‐adapted taxa with small seeds for quick colonization of disturbed sites, large leaves for light capture, and soft wood to attain fast height growth. Fire hadmore »weak effects on lowland forests but led to more stress‐adapted taxa that are tall with fast life cycles and small seeds that can quickly colonize burned sites. Site‐specific analyses were largely in line with cross‐site analyses, except for varying site‐level effects of El Niño frequency and fire activity, possibly because regional patterns in El Niño are not a good predictor of local changes, and charcoal abundances do not reflect fire intensity or severity. With future global changes, tropical Amazonian and Andean forests may transition toward shorter, drought‐ and disturbance‐adapted forests in the lowlands but taller forests in the highlands.

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  3. Global vegetation over the past 18,000 years has been transformed first by the climate changes that accompanied the last deglaciation and again by increasing human pressures; however, the magnitude and patterns of rates of vegetation change are poorly understood globally. Using a compilation of 1181 fossil pollen sequences and newly developed statistical methods, we detect a worldwide acceleration in the rates of vegetation compositional change beginning between 4.6 and 2.9 thousand years ago that is globally unprecedented over the past 18,000 years in both magnitude and extent. Late Holocene rates of change equal or exceed the deglacial rates for all continents, which suggests that the scale of human effects on terrestrial ecosystems exceeds even the climate-driven transformations of the last deglaciation. The acceleration of biodiversity change demonstrated in ecological datasets from the past century began millennia ago.