Phylogeny and the niche structure of meadow plant communities

Silvertown, Jonathan; Dodd, Mike and Gowing, David (2001). Phylogeny and the niche structure of meadow plant communities. Journal of Ecology, 89(3) pp. 428–435.



1 Because related species tend to be ecologically similar, it has long been recognized that the phylogenetic relationships between species in a community are likely to influence its structure. Previous investigations of the influence of phylogeny on community structure have generally shown that congeneric species are more frequent than would be expected if communities were randomly assembled. Because, under most theories of coexistence, stable coexistence requires ecological differences between species, the apparent excess of coexisting congeners suggests that trait differences important to coexistence must be recently evolved, arising near the tips of phylogenetic trees. 2 We test this hypothesis in two meadow plant communities for which we have good evidence of niche segregation along axes defined by hydrological conditions. 3 Niche overlaps were calculated and compared against null models for (i) all species in the community, (ii) species within genera, (iii) genera within families, (iv) families within the eudicots and monocots, and (v) eudicots and monocots. 4 Against expectation, we found that community structure was the cumulative result of niche separation arising at a range of phylogenetic levels and therefore that niche differences have been accumulated through the evolutionary history of species.

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