Evolutionary Legacy Effects on Ecosystems: Biogeographic Origins, Plant Traits, and Implications for Management in the Era of Global Change

Jeannine Cavender-Bares, David D. Ackerly, Sarah E. Hobbie, Philip A. Townsend

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Biogeographic origins of plant lineages are often reflected in species functional traits, with consequences for community assembly, diversity, and ecosystem function. The climatic and environmental conditions in which species evolved have lasting influence (legacy effects) through phylogenetic conservatism of traits that underlie community assembly and drive ecosystem processes. Legacy effects that influence community assembly may have direct consequences for ecosystem function or may be linked, owing to lineage history, to traits that impact ecosystems. Evolutionary priority effects, driven by the order of colonization and lineage diversification, as well as migration barriers and historical environmental changes, have shaped the diversity and composition of regional floras and their ecosystem functions. We examine the likely consequences of biogeographic history for plant responses to global change and consider how understanding linkages between biogeographic origins, functional traits, and ecosystem consequences can aid the management and restoration of ecosystems globally in the face of rapid environmental change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)433-462
Number of pages30
JournalAnnual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to J.C.-B., S.H., and P.T. (DEB-1342872) and by NASA to P.T. (NNX08AN31G). Much of the research that shaped our thinking on this topic was done as part of the Cedar Creek NSF Long-Term Ecological Research program (DEB-1234162).We thank Robert Ricklefs, Erika Edwards, JoyWard, Andy Ciurro, Aditya Singh, Cathleen Nguyen, Kent Cavender-Bares, Tracy Twine,Michael Donoghue, Becky Ostertag, Rebecca Montgomery, Daniel Stanton, Jose Meireles, Nick Deacon, and Paul Manos for insights, comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript, or technical assistance with figures.


  • Biogeographic history
  • Evolutionary priority effects
  • Legacy effects
  • Managed relocation, community assembly
  • Remote sensing of biodiversity and ecosystem traits
  • Restoration
  • Spectrally derived traits

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