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Using phylogenetics in community assembly and ecosystem functioning research

Publikationsart Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Originalbeitrag (peer-reviewed)
Autor/in Narwani Anita,
Projekt The eco-evolutionary dynamics of community assembly in aquatic ecosystems
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Originalbeitrag (peer-reviewed)

Zeitschrift Functional Ecology
Volume (Issue) 29
Seite(n) 589 - 591
Titel der Proceedings Functional Ecology
DOI 10.1111/1365-2435.12431


There is a long tradition in ecology of trying to understand community assembly processes by making inferences from patterns of community structure (Diamond 1975; Connor & Simberloff 1979). Inferring process from pattern is appealing because the latter is more easily observed and quantified, especially when manipulative controlled experiments are infeasible. In such cases, our hope (albeit naïve at times) is that patterns of community structure bear some signature of the processes that generated them by assuming that a particular pattern is overwhelmingly the outcome of a single dominant process. However, multiple processes can often generate the same pattern. A now well-known example of the inference of processes from patterns is Joseph Connell's ‘Ghost of Competition Past’ (1980), which highlighted that, although coexisting competitors may tend to be niche differentiated on average, this pattern in and of itself is not proof that the observed niche differences are the result of divergent selection experienced by coevolving competitors. Connell emphasized that direct empirical support for the notion of character displacement enabling coexistence was virtually non-existent. Another classic example of inferring process from pattern relates to the intermediate disturbance hypothesis (IDH) (Connell 1978), which suggests that intermediate levels of disturbance promote the highest levels of diversity (pattern) by preventing competitive exclusion by either good competitors in undisturbed environments or rapid growers in heavily disturbed environments (process). There have been very few attempts to directly test the process leading to this pattern, and it has more recently been recognized that two alternative processes (i.e. competitive relative nonlinearity and storage effects) are capable of generating the same pattern (Chesson 2000; Shea, Roxburgh & Rauschert 2004). Such examples are important reminders that understanding community assembly requires careful understanding of how pattern and process are linked. Critical evaluation of existing research approaches an important role to play here, by pointing the way towards more productive approaches and research agendas. For instance, in response to the criticisms of Connell (1980) and others, Schluter & McPhail (1992) developed a checklist of criteria that must be satisfied in order to demonstrate character displacement. Recent reviews highlight which items on the checklist rarely are checked off, thereby identifying productive directions for future work (Beans 2014; Stuart et al. 2014).