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  1. Abstract

    A central goal at the interface of ecology and conservation is understanding how the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem function (B–EF) will shift with changing climate. Despite recent theoretical advances, studies which examine temporal variation in the functional traits and mechanisms (mass ratio effects and niche complementarity effects) that underpin the B–EF relationship are lacking.

    Here, we use 13 years of data on plant species composition, plant traits, local‐scale abiotic variables, above‐ground net primary productivity (ANPP), and climate from the alpine tundra of Colorado (USA) to investigate temporal dynamics in the B–EF relationship. To assess how changing climatic conditions may alter the B–EF relationship, we built structural equation models (SEMs) for 11 traits across 13 years and evaluated the power of different trait SEMs to predict ANPP, as well as the relative contributions of mass ratio effects (community‐weighted mean trait values; CWM), niche complementarity effects (functional dispersion; FDis) and local abiotic variables. Additionally, we coupled linear mixed effects models with Multimodel inference methods to assess how inclusion of trait–climate interactions might improve our ability to predict ANPP through time.

    In every year, at least one SEM exhibited good fit, explaining between 19.6% and 57.2% of the variation in ANPP. However, the identity of the trait which best explained ANPP changed depending on winter precipitation, with leaf area, plant height and foliar nitrogen isotope content (δ15N) SEMs performing best in high, middle and low precipitation years, respectively. Regardless of trait identity, CWMs exerted a stronger influence on ANPP than FDis and total biotic effects were always greater than total abiotic effects. Multimodel inference reinforced the results of SEM analysis, with the inclusion of climate–trait interactions marginally improving our ability to predict ANPP through time.

    Synthesis. Our results suggest that temporal variation in climatic conditions influences which traits, mechanisms and abiotic variables were most responsible for driving the B–EF relationship. Importantly, our findings suggest that future research should consider temporal variability in the B–EF relationship, particularly how the predictive power of individual functional traits and abiotic variables may fluctuate as conditions shift due to climate change.

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  2. null (Ed.)
    Climate refugia, where local populations of species can persist through periods of unfavorable regional climate, play a key role in the maintenance of regional biodiversity during times of environmental change. However, the ability of refugia to buffer biodiversity change may be mediated by the landscape context of refugial habitats. Here, we examined how plant communities restricted to refugial sky islands of alpine tundra in the Colorado Rockies are changing in response to rapid climate change in the region (increased temperature, declining snowpack, and earlier snow melt-out) and if these biodiversity changes are mediated by the area or geographic isolation of the sky island. We resampled plant communities in 153 plots at seven sky islands distributed across the Colorado Rockies at two time points separated by 12 years (2007/2008–2019/2020) and found changes in taxonomic, phylogenetic, and functional diversity over time. Specifically, we found an increase in species richness, a trend toward increased phylogenetic diversity, a shift toward leaf traits associated with the stress-tolerant end of leaf economics spectrum (e.g., lower specific leaf area, higher leaf dry matter content), and a decrease in the functional dispersion of specific leaf area. Importantly, these changes were partially mediated by refugial area but not by geographic isolation, suggesting that dispersal from nearby areas of tundra does not play a strong role in mediating these changes, while site characteristics associated with a larger area (e.g., environmental heterogeneity, larger community size) may be relatively more important. Taken together, these results suggest that considering the landscape context (area and geographic isolation) of refugia may be critical for prioritizing the conservation of specific refugial sites that provide the most conservation value. 
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  3. Abstract

    Fine‐scale microclimate variation due to complex topography can shape both current vegetation distributional patterns and how vegetation responds to changing climate. Topographic heterogeneity in mountains is hypothesized to mediate responses to regional climate change at the scale of metres. For alpine vegetation especially, the interplay between changing temperatures and topographically mediated variation in snow accumulation will determine the overall impact of climate change on vegetation dynamics.

    We combined 30 years of co‐located measurements of temperature, snow and alpine plant community composition in Colorado, USA, to investigate vegetation community trajectories across a snow depth gradient.

    Our analysis of long‐term trends in plant community composition revealed notable directional change in the alpine vegetation with warming temperatures. Furthermore, community trajectories are divergent across the snow depth gradient, with exposed parts of the landscape that experience little snow accumulation shifting towards stress‐tolerant, cold‐ and drought‐adapted communities, while snowier areas shifted towards more warm‐adapted communities.

    Synthesis: Our findings demonstrate that fine‐scale topography can mediate both the magnitude and direction of vegetation responses to climate change. We documented notable shifts in plant community composition over a 30‐year period even though alpine vegetation is known for slow dynamics that often lag behind environmental change. These results suggest that the processes driving alpine plant population and community dynamics at this site are strong and highly heterogeneous across the complex topography that is characteristic of high‐elevation mountain systems.

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