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Nat Commun. 2013;4:2317. doi: 10.1038/ncomms3317.

Fine-scale niche structure of Neotropical forests reflects a legacy of the Great American Biotic Interchange.

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan, 830 N. University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 49109, USA.


The tendency of species to retain their ancestral niches may link processes that determine community assembly with biogeographic histories that span geological time scales. Biogeographic history is likely to have had a particularly strong impact on Neotropical forests because of the influence of the Great American Biotic Interchange, which followed emergence of a land connection between North and South America ~3 Ma. Here we examine the community structure, ancestral niches and ancestral distributions of the related, hyperdiverse woody plant genera Psychotria and Palicourea (Rubiaceae) in Panama. We find that 49% of the variation in hydraulic traits, a strong determinant of community structure, is explained by species' origins in climatically distinct biogeographic regions. Niche evolution models for a regional sample of 152 species indicate that ancestral climatic niches are associated with species' habitat distributions, and hence local community structure and composition, even millions of years after dispersal into new geographic regions.

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