Ecological processes we observe in the present are deeply influenced by evolutionary processes in the past. Where and when species evolved has important consequences for the characteristics of organisms (their functional traits). Traits, in turn, influence community organization and can mediate flows of energy and nutrients through ecosystems. Thus, the evolutionary (phylogenetic) history of species influences the structure and function of natural communities, mediated by traits. The scale dependency of community structure on phylogenetic history is poorly understood, and the influence of history on ecosystem processes is largely unexplored.
To better understand how the past influences the present and the scale-dependency of these influences, this Working Group will undertake a large-scale synthesis of the connections among phylogenetic history, plant traits, community organization and ecosystem processes throughout the major biomes of North America. Through multi-scale analyses, this team seeks to advance understanding of the extent to which the evolutionary history of organisms influences community organization and drives ecosystem processes. Because ecosystems both drive and respond to global changes, this question is a unifying theme for biology in the 21st century.