Multifunctionality debt in global drylands linked to past biome and climate

Jian Sheng Ye*, Manuel Delgado-Baquerizo, Santiago Soliveres, Fernando T. Maestre

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Past vegetation and climatic conditions are known to influence current biodiversity patterns. However, whether their legacy effects affect the provision of multiple ecosystem functions, that is, multifunctionality, remains largely unknown. Here we analyzed soil nutrient stocks and their transformation rates in 236 drylands from six continents to evaluate the associations between current levels of multifunctionality and legacy effects of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) desert biome distribution and climate. We found that past desert distribution and temperature legacy, defined as increasing temperature from LGM, were negatively correlated with contemporary multifunctionality even after accounting for predictors such as current climate, soil texture, plant species richness, and site topography. Ecosystems that have been deserts since the LGM had up to 30% lower contemporary multifunctionality compared with those that were nondeserts during the LGM. In addition, ecosystems that experienced higher warming rates since the LGM had lower contemporary multifunctionality than those suffering lower warming rates, with a ~9% reduction per extra degree Celsius. Past desert distribution and temperature legacies had direct negative effects, while temperature legacy also had indirect (via soil sand content) negative effects on multifunctionality. Our results indicate that past biome and climatic conditions have left a strong “functionality debt” in global drylands. They also suggest that ongoing warming and expansion of desert areas may leave a strong fingerprint in the future functioning of dryland ecosystems worldwide that needs to be considered when establishing management actions aiming to combat land degradation and desertification.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2152-2161
Number of pages10
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 John Wiley & Sons Ltd


  • arid climate
  • Last Glacial Maximum
  • nutrient stocks
  • nutrient transformation rates
  • paleoclimate
  • plant productivity
  • plant species richness
  • precipitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • General Environmental Science


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