Prepared by Tammy L. Elliott & T. Jonathan Davies
Plant ecologists have long been interested in describing and delineating plant communities. Until about a decade ago, data based on environmental site characteristics and species diversity were often used to meet these objectives. More recently, data derived from the evolutionary relationships among species taken from phylogenetic trees have also been used to characterize plant communities.
A common assumption in plant community ecology is that closely-related species are more ecologically similar and should
In this project, our goals were to 1) compare environmental site differences among vegetation plots to differences among plots based on species composition and the evolutionary relationships of species; 2) examine if plant communities delineated using the evolutionary relationships among species more closely resemble those based on abiotic differences compared to those based on differences among species composition; and 3) evaluate whether species with similar evolutionary histories co-occur in similar vegetation communities.
To address these goals, a sampling grid with 176 1-m² plots was created on Mount Irony, in subarctic Canada. In each plot, we measured the
Our first analysis examined whether environmental, species and evolutionary differences among plots showed similar patterns. For the most part, the dissimilarity patterns were similar for the three different measures: plots that were dissimilar in their environmental dimensions were also dissimilar in species composition and in the evolutionary relationships of species.
We then used these dissimilarity values to group plots into clusters. Based on our initial predictions, we expected plots clustered on the evolutionary histories of the plant species within them to more closely resemble the clustering patterns based on environmental attributes, because we hypothesized that the evolutionary relationships among species might capture the environmental growth preferences of species. However, neither species composition nor evolutionary relationships among species grouped plots into clusters similar to those based on the environmental variables. In addition, we found no evidence that species with similar evolutionary histories co-occurred in similar vegetation communities.
In summary, although we found that plot differences in environment, species composition and evolutionary relationships among species were similar, this did not transfer into how plots clustered. In addition, we did not find any evidence that species within clusters were more evolutionarily related than expected by chance. Our results suggest that adding phylogenetic data to local scale analyses might have only limited value.
This is a plain language summary for the paper of Elliott & Davies published in the Journal of Vegetation Science (https://doi.org/10.1111/jvs.12700).