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Experimental plant communities develop phylogenetically overdispersed abundance distributions during assembly.

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Publication date 2013
Author Allan Eric, Jenkins Tania, Fergus Alexander J F, Roscher Christiane, Fischer Markus, Petermann Jana, Weisser Wolfgang W, Schmid Bernhard,
Project Mechanisms underlying plant community productivity, stability and assembly (D-A-CH/LAE)
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Ecology
Volume (Issue) 94(2)
Page(s) 465 - 77
Title of proceedings Ecology

Open Access


The importance of competition between similar species in driving community assembly is much debated. Recently, phylogenetic patterns in species composition have been investigated to help resolve this question: phylogenetic clustering is taken to imply environmental filtering, and phylogenetic overdispersion to indicate limiting similarity between species. We used experimental plant communities with random species compositions and initially even abundance distributions to examine the development of phylogenetic pattern in species abundance distributions. Where composition was held constant by weeding, abundance distributions became overdispersed through time, but only in communities that contained distantly related clades, some with several species (i.e., a mix of closely and distantly related species). Phylogenetic pattern in composition therefore constrained the development of overdispersed abundance distributions, and this might indicate limiting similarity between close relatives and facilitation/complementarity between distant relatives. Comparing the phylogenetic patterns in these communities with those expected from the monoculture abundances of the constituent species revealed that interspecific competition caused the phylogenetic patterns. Opening experimental communities to colonization by all species in the species pool led to convergence in phylogenetic diversity. At convergence, communities were composed of several distantly related but species-rich clades and had overdispersed abundance distributions. This suggests that limiting similarity processes determine which species dominate a community but not which species occur in a community. Crucially, as our study was carried out in experimental communities, we could rule out local evolutionary or dispersal explanations for the patterns and identify ecological processes as the driving force, underlining the advantages of studying these processes in experimental communities. Our results show that phylogenetic relations between species provide a good guide to understanding community structure and add a new perspective to the evidence that niche complementarity is critical in driving community assembly.