Differing climatic mechanisms control transient and accumulated vegetation novelty in Europe and eastern North America

Kevin D. Burke*, John W. Williams, Simon Brewer, Walter Finsinger, Thomas Giesecke, David J. Lorenz, Alejandro Ordonez

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Understanding the mechanisms of climate that produce novel ecosystems is of joint interest to conservation biologists and palaeoecologists. Here, we define and differentiate transient from accumulated novelty and evaluate four climatic mechanisms proposed to cause species to reshuffle into novel assemblages: high climatic novelty, high spatial rates of change (displacement), high variance among displacement rates for individual climate variables, and divergence among displacement vector bearings. We use climate simulations to quantify climate novelty, displacement and divergence across Europe and eastern North America from the last glacial maximum to the present, and fossil pollen records to quantify vegetation novelty. Transient climate novelty is consistently the strongest predictor of transient vegetation novelty, while displacement rates (mean and variance) are equally important in Europe. However, transient vegetation novelty is lower in Europe and its relationship to climatic predictors is the opposite of expectation. For both continents, accumulated novelty is greater than transient novelty, and climate novelty is the strongest predictor of accumulated ecological novelty. These results suggest that controls on novel ecosystems vary with timescale and among continents, and that the twenty-first century emergence of novelty will be driven by both rapid rates of climate change and the emergence of novel climate states. This article is part of a discussion meeting issue 'The past is a foreign country: how much can the fossil record actually inform conservation?'.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20190218
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1788
Publication statusPublished - 23 Dec 2019


  • Climate analogue
  • Climate change
  • Novel climate
  • Novel ecosystem
  • Pollen


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